When the Mets open the season In DC against the Nationals on April 1 we will likely see a trio of outfielders in Dom Smith, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto–that are homegrown talent.
All three were drafted by the Mets and developed in the organization and each brings skills to the table that could help the team secure their first playoff berth in 5 years. All 3 players spoke to us via Zoom this week and the confidence they have in both themselves and each other is obvious
Let me start with Brandon Nimmo because he is the likely centerfielder and that was a position the Mets tried to fill all off-season. To be around Nimmo his positivity is the first thing you notice but spending every day around him I can tell you that his work ethic is just as impressive. At the plate, his command of the strike zone is as good as any hitter in the game as his on base percentage would illustrate. But he has grown into a hitter that relishes those key RBI moments and has become a tough out in those situations.
A pitcher who faces Nimmo in the division once told me that he is a difficult hitter to face because he not only forces you to throw strikes but the strikes he likes to hit–down and in and when you fall behind him 2 and 0 or 3 and 1 executing pitches to him without walking him is tough to do.
But the question most have about Nimmo is his defense in center which most think is subpar but that is simply not the truth. He clearly made some mistakes out there last year but to me they are very correctable. One was the ball hit right at him as his first few steps appeared choppy at times. Part of the way you can correct that is on those balls make your first step back so those balls hit deep have a fighting chance to get caught. And his speed will allow him to recover from the balls not hit well.
All off-season Nimmo worked on his centerfield play even as he kept hearing the Mets were trying to obtain George Springer. I can tell you from being around Nimmo those rumors inspired him. Remember early in his career he had to struggle to get playing time but he worked on his craft making himself a solid part time player knowing he had to make the most out of those pinch hitting chances which made him a better player that the Mets were forced to give playing time.
Dominic Smith has a similar path to his left field position as the emergence of Pete Alonso shut the door a bit on his chances to get to the show but he worked at making himself a better player. A big part of that was getting his weight under control which allowed him to be much more athletic in his baseball approach. That gave the Mets the idea he could play some in the outfield and in the last 24 months he has transformed himself into a player that improved in leaps and bounds defensively while bringing offense to the team that placed him near the top in some of the league’s offensive categories.
He became a player whose bat demanded his presence in the lineup day in and day out and in a Non DH World that spot has to be left field. If the DH comes back, the Mets might try Alonso there with Smith playing first but for now Smith will own that left field position. Throughout the past few years, Smith never felt sorry for himself and worked tirelessly to claim his spot.
The third player in the group is perhaps the most underappreciated athlete in NY-Michael Conforto who burst onto the scene in 2015 helping the Mets secure a trip to The World Series with a great bat and far better defensive skills than the experts thought he possessed.
Much like Smith, Conforto uses the whole field and hits the ball where it is pitched with power to all of those fields. His arm is very underrated and his range in right allows him to snare line drives other outfielders simply can not track down.
This is a trio of players that will help define the 2021 season for the Mets with the one drawback being they also hit from the left handed side of the plate. But the Mets did add players like Jose Martinez, Kevin Pillar, and Albert Almora Jr. to provide lineup options against tough southpaws.
My sense is Dom Smith, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto will remind us of another Met trio of home grown outfielders–Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, and Darryl Strawberry who manned the Shea Stadium outfield in 1986.
And if they do, it could not only remind us of that trio of players but that year in general.