SECAUCUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It was 33 years ago that the New York Mets plucked a high school slugger out of Los Angeles with their first pick in the amateur draft.
That was Darryl Strawberry, the No. 1 selection in 1980. He hit 252 home runs for the Mets, still the franchise record, and made eight straight National League All-Star teams.
He’s also the hitter Dominic Smith gets compared to back home.
Nine days shy of his 18th birthday, Smith went to the Mets with the 11th overall choice Thursday night and flashed a boyish grin as he joined Commissioner Bud Selig at the podium. Then the first baseman and his mother received hugs from Strawberry, who was representing the Mets at MLB Network Studios.
“Right now I’m just speechless,” Smith said. “This is just an unbelievable moment. I’m excited. I’m happy. I can’t stop shaking, I can’t stop smiling. So, I can’t wait until I can actually get on the field and play with the New York Mets.”
And while Strawberry was an outfielder and Smith is primarily a first baseman, they already have something in common: a sweet-looking swing from the left side of the plate.
“He can get his hands to the ball and get inside the ball as well as anybody I’ve seen as an amateur,” Mets amateur scouting director Tommy Tanous said, according to the team’s official website. “It’s an extremely smooth swing. His legs stay under him. His head never moves. And it’s really, really a flawless bat path once he gets to the ball.”
“You don’t find a swing like this every year,” he added. “We feel like we put a very offensive player and defensive player into the system. I’ve been scouting 18 years. I don’t think I’ve seen a first baseman play as an amateur with this kind of defense, also. So this is a well-rounded player. It’s hit and it’s power, and it’s a middle-of-the-order bat.”
Smith’s father, Clabe, grew up in the Los Angeles area and said he saw Strawberry play for Crenshaw High School when he was hitting titanic drives in his teens. Clabe Smith said locals who remember those days often bring up Strawberry’s name when they see Dominic Smith hit and say the kid reminds them of the former big league slugger.
The youngster said Strawberry told him to take this all in and enjoy it.
“It’s crazy. It’s pretty surreal to me,” Dominic Smith said, adding he lives about 10 minutes from Crenshaw High.
Strawberry said he was proud to see the Mets draft another inner-city kid from Los Angeles. He said childhood buddy Eric Davis, who also developed into a major league star, told Strawberry all about Smith after seeing him play.
“I know when Eric says he can play, that means he can play,” Strawberry said.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Smith, who played for Junipero Serra High School and came through Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy, has a college commitment to Southern California. He said he’ll let the signing process play out before making any definite plans about his immediate future.
Paul DePodesta, the Mets’ vice president for player development and amateur scouting, said the club thinks Smith can hit for power and average as well as be an “impact” defender at first base.
“We think he’s a pretty complete player,” DePodesta said on a conference call. “A very mature human being and a natural leader” who will be a “great fit for New York.”
Five picks after Smith was selected, the Philadelphia Phillies took his close friend, California high school shortstop J.P. Crawford — cousin of Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford. When the two embraced it made for a strange scene at MLB Network Studios — Smith in a Mets jersey and Crawford wearing a rival Phillies top.
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