Menu

COLLEGESPORTS

Strawberry fields? Mets go back to Cali to draft another sweet-swinging lefty in Dominic Smith

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.

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.

___

GRAY MATTER: Jonathan Gray was breathing a little easier on the eve of the biggest game of his career.

Being selected by the Colorado Rockies with the No. 3 overall pick took some of the pressure off his hard-throwing right shoulder.

With the Major League Baseball draft now out of the way, the Oklahoma pitcher can turn all his attention toward taking the mound on Friday for an NCAA super regional opener against LSU. Gray has a chance to move the Sooners a step closer to the College World Series.

"Focused on winning, get us to Omaha," said Gray, who counts Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan as his favorite pitcher. "We win two more games and we're there."

Gray is having a stellar season with the Sooners, going 10-2 with a 1.59 ERA. His fastball keeps gaining velocity, too, with most reaching the mid- to upper-90s and some hitting 100 mph. That's what intrigued the Rockies, who believe his blazing heater could one day be a good fit at hitter-friendly Coors Field.

"Jonathan has a power arm and he is a great competitor," said Bill Schmidt, Colorado's vice president of scouting.

Gray insisted he wasn't disappointed when Houston took Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the No. 1 pick, or when the Chicago Cubs selected third baseman Kris Bryant of San Diego at No. 2. Gray had convinced himself he might plummet as far as 10th.

"I kept all possibilities open. I didn't say I was going to go 1 or 2," he said on a conference call. "With me, I have to see something to believe it. I never get my hopes up too high."

Days before the draft, published reports that cited unidentified sources said Gray tested positive for the medication Adderall during baseball's predraft drug-testing program.

"I'm not going to talk about that right now," he said. "There will be a time for that. Right now, I'm just happy to be selected by the Rockies."

___

WAITING GAME: Nine prospects attended the draft, the most since the event was moved to MLB Network Studios in 2009 — when Mike Trout was the only player there to hear his name announced by Commissioner Bud Selig.

Last year, there were five at the draft site, including No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa. The nine players this year sat in a makeshift dugout in the studio, hoping their wait wasn't long.

Georgia high school outfielder Clint Frazier was the first to be selected, at No. 5 by the Cleveland Indians. There were no friendly bets among the players on who might go earliest.

"Nah, I'm kind of sensitive and competitive," a smiling Frazier said. "I wouldn't want anyone saying they think they're going before I do."

California high school first baseman Dominic Smith was next, at No. 11 to the New York Mets. Next came California high school shortstop J.P. Crawford (No. 16, Philadelphia), East Central Community College shortstop Tim Anderson (No. 17, Chicago White Sox), South Carolina high school catcher Nick Ciuffo (No. 21, Tampa Bay) and Texas high school outfielder Billy McKinney (No. 24, Oakland).

Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge and California high school lefty Ian Clarkin went to the New York Yankees to cap the first round, at Nos. 32 and 33, respectively.

Oklahoma high school catcher Jon Denney was the only player in attendance who wasn't drafted during the first night, sitting in the dugout as 73 picks went by. Denney is listed on MLB.com as the top available player, but he'll have to wait until the third round begins Friday — via conference call with teams.

___

TWO-SPORT STAR: The first high school player selected was pitcher Kohl Stewart, who went to the Minnesota Twins at No. 4 overall. A right-hander from Tomball, Texas, Stewart has signed to play baseball and football at Texas A&M — where he would likely be a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

"I think either way, they're behind me," Stewart said on MLB Network. "I think throwing a football helped my arm. I think my arm's a lot more durable because of football. ... I'm looking forward to being able to compete and work on baseball year-round. I'm really excited to see how that all works out."

As a high school senior, Stewart threw for 2,560 yards and 28 touchdowns.

___

YANKEES TRIO: Aaron Judge toured Yankee Stadium with eight other prospects Thursday and daydreamed about roaming the outfield there someday.

After being drafted in the first round by the Yankees, that could become a reality in a few years.

"I was hoping," the 6-foot-7 outfielder out of Fresno State said. "Everyone wants to be a Yankee, so I was happy to hear my name called."

Judge was on site at MLB Network Studios and went 32nd overall to the Yankees, who had three first-round picks — more than any other team. They also chose Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo at No. 26 and capped the opening round by taking California high school lefty Ian Clarkin at No. 33.

Clarkin, who was also at the draft, might have a tough time getting his family and friends to root for his new team. He grew up a Boston Red Sox fan, as did his father and several buddies.

"I know it's not a good way to start," Clarkin said with a smile, "but I'm a Boston fan and I know wearing that Yankees hat around, I'm going to get some headaches from my friends."

Clarkin already looked pretty comfortable wearing his Yankees pinstripes.

"I love them now," he said. "My Dad's going to have to learn to love them, too."

Four other teams had two picks each in the first round: Pittsburgh (Georgia high school outfielder Austin Meadows, No. 9, and Washington high school catcher Reese McGuire, No. 14), St. Louis (Gonzaga lefty Marco Gonzales, No. 19, and New Jersey high school lefty Rob Kaminsky), Tampa Bay (South Carolina high school catcher Nick Ciuffo, No. 21, and Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek, No. 29) and Texas (Oral Roberts righty Alex Gonzalez, No. 23, and Georgia high school shortstop Travis Demeritte, No. 30).

___

AROUND THE HORN: There were 15 pitchers selected among the first 33 picks, 12 right-handers and three lefties. The first round also included six outfielders, four shortstops, four third basemen and two catchers. ... The first round featured 18 college players and 15 out of high school. ... California led all states with six players chosen in the first round. Texas had four, while Florida and Georgia produced three apiece. ... No pairs of teammates were picked in the first round for the first time since 2001. ... The draft resumes Friday with rounds 3-10 via conference call and continues Saturday with rounds 11-40.

___

AP Sports Writers Pat Graham in Denver and Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed to this report.