PORT ST. LUCIE — Jacob deGrom’s shorter hair isn’t the only startling difference you notice immediately among the Mets’ players at spring training.
Dominic Smith was challenged by GM Sandy Alderson at the end of last season to report in better condition following a lackluster and out-of-shape cameo over the final six weeks of 2017, and the longtime first base prospect clearly put in the requisite work over the offseason to accomplish that task.
It still appears as if Smith will open camp behind veteran free-agent signing Adrian Gonzalez for playing time at first base, but he reported at a lean 225 pounds, shedding nearly 30 from his highest weight from one year ago.
“I notice a difference in everything I do, even just walking around the house,” Smith told the Daily News on Wednesday. “Just getting up and moving around, having more energy, better posture, better stamina, better everything. And I definitely feel different already out on the field.
“I feel like I get around way easier. I’m stronger in BP, more mobile, I can bend over and get back to my feet quicker and change directions quicker and react faster. I definitely see a big difference in this short period of time.”
Yes, we’ve all read far too many springtime stories about players claiming to be in the best shape of their lives at the start of every new season.
But Smith’s mental and physical transformation appears as dramatic as it was imperative, especially after Alderson told him flatly during last October’s exit meeting that he wasn’t guaranteed a starting job after slashing just .198/.262/.395 with nine homers over 167 at-bats during his late-season call-up to the Mets.
The 35-year-old Gonzalez, a five-time All-Star who missed most of last season with the Dodgers with back issues, was signed for the major-league minimum ($545,000) in January after he was released by Atlanta.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Smith says. “I went up and played in the big leagues for a month and a half, and I didn’t play the way I would like. That’s just the bottom line and the truth of it…For them to go out and (sign Gonzalez) and try to help me along with my development, you can’t do anything but appreciate that and thank them, because whatever happens, I know I can definitely learn a lot from A-Gon.”
Growing up in Southern California, Smith watched plenty of Gonzalez, who played five seasons for the Padres and the last five-plus in Los Angeles.
“He’s been one of the best first basemen from my generation growing up. I used to watch him every night, growing up in L.A. So I’m a big A-Gon fan,” Smith said. “He rehabbed against us last year in Triple-A and we talked at first base and I told him then that I was a big fan of his and pretty much thanked him for what he did in L.A. over his career.
“I definitely think it’s going to be an exciting spring training, a new clubhouse dynamic, just a new everything, a fresh start for everybody. So I’m pretty excited what I can learn from him and from everybody.”
It admittedly took “way too long” for Smith to finally learn how to alter his eating habits and maintain his fitness to maximize his baseball career. An overhauled diet and intense workouts all winter back in California — and for about a month in Arizona at the Fischer Institute of Physical Therapy and Performance — led the Mets’ 2013 first-round draft pick to arrive in Florida earlier this month “probably even lighter” than his official 225-pound listing.
“I’m telling people 225, but I’ve weighed myself a couple of times since I’ve been here and it’s lower than that,” Smith said. “I want to play around this weight. I just feel more like an athlete. Every time I came into spring training I’ve always felt like a good baseball player. But this is the first year I’ve felt like a good athlete.
“This is the first time I feel agile, and I’m really excited about that. I just want to go out there and see what I can do.”
What he won’t do, what he can’t do, is go back to the poor eating habits he fell back into last year at Triple-A, even if Gonzalez wins the starting job in camp and Smith winds up back at Las Vegas to open the season.
Dominic Smith’s offseason weight loss has the Mets’ first baseman feeling better than ever.
(Peter Botte / New York Daily News)
“You can still eat some things sometimes, in small quantities, to treat yourself, as long as you don’t get into the habit of doing it all the time,” Smith said. “I don’t miss too many foods. It’s funny, with my diet, when I do eat bad foods now, it’s just nasty. You don’t really crave them anymore. It just leaves a bad taste. You start to realize how salty and greasy some foods are and you just feel bloated. It makes you want to eat clean even more, period. So I definitely did learn.
“I was never like a sweets guy. I didn’t really eat candy or ice cream or cakes. I was more of a cheesy, greasy eater. I loved cheeseburgers and Mexican food and pizza. Those were my favorites after a game. I was a big fan of all of that. It was hard in the beginning, but I’ve learned a lot from my time in the big leagues until now and through the offseason, so for 2018, I’m excited and ready to show what I can do.”
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