Ideally, as noted in an article yesterday about Dominic Smith signing on with the Nationals on a one-year/$2M deal in D.C., Washington’s skipper Davey Martinez told reporters earlier this winter it would probably work best to have Joey Meneses playing first base and DHing on days he did not play the field in 2023. So in their search for a bat who could add pop to the Nats’ lineup, a left fielder made sense.
“If we could find someone who could possibly play first base and play some left field, that would be great,” he said.
The signing of Smith, “always a solid defensive first baseman,” as MLB.com Mets beat writer Anthony DiComo noted this winter, who was pushed to left field in NY by Pete Alonso’s rise with the Mets, raised questions about where the Nats planned to play the 27-year-old, 2013 1st Round pick.
Smith seemingly cleared some of that up when he spoke with reporters on Wednesday and said the Nationals signed him to play first base every day in 2023, an opportunity he’s been hoping for over the last few years.
Dominic Smith went nearly two full months between this homer and his last one on 4/13. Had to feel good in general, but it had to feel a little extra good because that baby wasn’t a cheap one. #Mets #LGM (via @Mets) pic.twitter.com/5Y2tox4mBd— Matt Musico (@mmusico8) June 2, 2021
He split time between first base (187 games) and left field (182) in the majors in New York, but in the minors, he played 565 of 679 career games at first base, and in the big leagues, he’s statistically been a far better defender at first (-3 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 1,152 innings in the majors) versus -11 DRS in left field (in 859+ innings).
Smith has struggled at the plate in the majors, with a .294/.361/.429 line in 679 games and 2,895 in his minor league career, but just a .246/.308/.424 line in 443 games and 1,373 PAs in the big leagues, but told reporters last night he thought an opportunity to play first base again, and his comfort there, could help him out at the plate too.
“I think for me, I haven’t had this since my last year, full season in the minor leagues,” Smith said of the opportunity to play first base every day, “and I think — you don’t want to say that it kind of affects your play, but I think when I’m at first base, I’m able to just be comfortable, be relaxed and obviously showcase my talent over there, and not have to worry about doing too much or where my positioning is and whatnot.
“So I think it will help me have a clear head at the plate, and I’m just excited to have that again.”
When he spoke with the Nats before signing, the club shared their plan, and what they want from the left-handed hitting veteran, which includes helping some younger members of the Nats’ roster adjust to the big league game.
“They want me to come in and play first base, but obviously just share my knowledge of the game,” he explained, “ ... help these younger guys kind of skip some of those speed bumps that I had in my career. So I think that I can come in, I get to share my knowledge and just keep developing in my career as well. I’m just excited for the opportunity to keep going out and showcasing my talent, my ability, and what I can do out there.”
It helps, he said, to join a team he knows well, having played against the Nationals over the years in the majors, and against their affiliates in the minors as he worked his way up to the big leagues.
“Playing against them pretty much my whole career, seeing them in Spring Training my whole career, I’m seeing what they did in 2019, and talking it over with [manager] Davey [Martinez] and seeing just the moves they made over the last year, and having [Martinez] and [GM Mike Rizzo] talk to me and really reach out and let me know my plan, what they kind of expect from me, and in my opinion I felt like there was an opportunity for me to kind of help this young core group of guys kind of develop in the big leagues and just kind of have that fresh start in my career to go play every day and help the Nationals win as many games as I can.”
The fresh start in his career is big, especially for a player who was the 11th overall pick in the ‘13 Draft and No. 2 prospect in New York’s system, according to Baseball America, before he made his MLB debut in 2017.
“I think any time a guy can get a fresh start it can be an exciting time,” Smith said.
“I’m excited for it, like I said, the chance to go out and play every day, that’s all I’ve ever wanted in my career, and like I said, I haven’t had it,” he added, but he also knows they won’t just hand him the job, he’ll have to earn the opportunity.
“I’m not asking them to give me anything but just the chance to go and prove that. So I’m very excited they want me to go out and compete and help this team get back what they were in 2019.”
Smith is still relatively young, and in the nation’s capital this year, he’ll likely get a shot to show what he can do with consistent reps at first and regular at-bats.
“I still feel like — I’m 27 years old, so I feel like I have a lot to give to this game of baseball just in general,” he said.
“I haven’t even really had the chance to showcase what I can on an everyday basis, so I’m excited to do that, and obviously to do it with the Nationals, with this young core group of guys, I think we can do some things this year, so I’m just excited for the opportunity.”