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Mets go back to Cali, draft 1B Dominic Smith

Friday - 6/7/2013, 2:10am  ET

FILE - In this June 3, 2012 file photo, Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray (22) throws a pitch during an NCAA college baseball regional game against Army in Charlottesville, Va. The Houston Astros have the top pick in the Major League Baseball draft for the second straight year, with the team considering several players to take No. 1, including Oklahoma's Gray. (AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff, File)

MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Sports Writer

SECAUCUS, N.J. (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.

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."

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