Manager Lloyd McLendon confirmed that Justin Smoak will be his go-to guy at first base to start the 2014 season. While this isn’t a huge shock, it puts to bed any notions that there was going to be a battle for the slot.
I’m referring, of course, to newly acquired Logan Morrison and Corey Hart. The two outfielders-turned-first-basemen have been in the mix since the day they landed in Seattle. Each with their own knee issues, Lomo and Hart had been transitioned into a first base role to keep them in the lineup. When they made the move over to the American League, we all expected that they would evolve into a first base / DH hybrid and that the Mariners were overloaded with first basemen.
Now that Justin Smoak is stamped into that first base position, what are the implications for the other guys?
Corey Hart is going to get a lot more reps in the outfield. This isn’t a big shock either. Hart has been taking reps in the outfield and has reportedly been feeling very good about it. For now, McClendon is saying Hart will be his guy in right field, but as for the regular season, it remains to be seen how healthy he can be. McClendon described his position during the regular season as “A day to day thing.”
Given that Smoak is going to get the majority of games at first, it seems likely that Hart isn’t going to be there all that often. Especially with Lomo waiting in the wings to take on first base. Expect to see Corey Hart splitting his time in right field with someone, and spending the rest of his time as DH behind Cano.
It should be obvious that Hart is going to get half-time in right field, so that certainly opens the door for a guy like Abraham Almonte or Xavier Avery to make a splash in Seattle. Jeff Sullivan said in a chat this morning that Almonte could end up with the highest WAR of any M’s outfielder this season. The jury is still out on whether that’s a positive statement or not.
Logan Morrison is likely going to get more reps as DH, and fewer turns in the field. This becomes more and more true if Corey Hart can stay healthy and take a lot of punishment in right field. Lomo is a career .249/.337/.375 hitter, so its not like we’re getting a Kendrys Morales DH here. Those numbers are deflated because of his injuries, but lets be realistic. Lomo is a huge question mark going into the season. Projections have him between -2.1 (Oliver) and 6.0 (Steamer) oWAR for the upcoming season. So pretty much anything can happen here.
Mind you, all of this changes if those Kendrys Morales rumors turn out to be true.
The way that Justin Smoak has been swinging the bat lately is certainly encouraging. Bob Dutton noted that the M’s are hoping to turn Smoak into a doubles leader this season, which would undoubtedly help to drive in more runs.
The best case scenario here is that Smoak continues to roll and can find his swing from both sides of the plate, and that Corey Hart can continue to strengthen up those knees and play 4-5 days a week in right field. Platooning him with Almonte or Avery would be ideal.
As Cactus League play rolls on, and as the season draws closer, we’re going to see the Mariners trim more fat from the roster and we can see what the Mariners might have in store for opening day.