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Justin Smoak and Spring Expectations


When Justin Smoak was awarded starting duties at first base by manager Lloyd McClendon there was a collective groan from the Mariners blog-o-sphere. Just as it seemed that Mariners fans had had enough of Justin Smoak and his continuing disappointments, he was thrust into the limelight again. But this time we are all too hesitant to trust him.

Smoak has been hot and cold for nearly the entirety of his Mariners career. Splitting his 2013 season into two, there’s over a 50 point drop in his batting average and a drop of over 60 points in his OBP.

It’s not exceptionally shocking to see that he’s a streaky guy, that’s pretty much the one thing that’s guaranteed about Justin Smoak. The shocking think is that we were all surprised to hear when he was assigned first base, and then started to burn up the basepads in Peoria.

Justin Smoak is having the spring of a lifetime, as of today he’s batting .311/.380/.557, with three home runs and 10 RBIs. These are exceedingly good numbers for a guy who we had considered off the opening day lineup only a few short weeks ago.

More than that, Smoak has hit six of his 19 hits for doubles, giving him over half of his hits for extra bases. This is the kind of production that manager McClendon had tried to coax out of Smoak earlier in the spring, when he commented:

“For me, Smoak is a guy who should hit 40-45 doubles and 20-25 home runs. Not the other way around. He can still be productive. He’s tried to put the cart before the horse.” – Lloyd McClendon on Justin Smoak

Part of his production may have to do with the instruction of one Robinson Cano. It seems that Cano has taken Smoak under his wing lately, and has been working on some swing mechanics with him. No word yet on if Smoak has tried hitting beans down the hallway with a stick.

How much can we really trust spring results though?

I mentioned on Tuesday that there are some serious problems with the Mariner’s spring training roster assignments. That thought was echoed by BigDog330 in the comments “The Mariners are looking too hard at spring results once again”.

Lets put it this way, there’s plenty to be excited about, but the games don’t matter. Show me those same numbers in the regular season, and I’ll be one happy blogger, but show me those numbers in the spring, and there’s always a lingering doubt that we’ll see another Brandon Maurer come April.

Smoak is a streaky player, we know that. Right now he’s hot, but he could just as easily turn cold again. Eventually we might learn to trust it a bit more, and eventually Cano might be able to turn Smoak into the doubles-machine that McClendon is dreaming of.

In the mean time, Justin Smoak is leaving us little doubt as to why the Mariners were so quick to thrust him into the first base slot.

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  • GD

    I was on the Smoak bandwagon on “keeping” him all this time, but “finally” gave up this past Fall.

    Spring #s don’t count, BUT what is VERY interesting this entire spring is that all 3 of Smoak/Ackley/Miller are all hitting to the opposite fields in nearly all ABs and hits they have this Spring. Plus Smoak is hitting for power from BOTH sides of the plate, and he’s hitting to opposite fields from BOTH sides of the plate.

    We have not seen this EVER from Smoak/Ackley or Miller. So seeing that on a consistent basis from all of them this entire Spring we all can’t help but get excited about this! The potential has been there with all of them, but since Cano has been in camp we all are hoping that Cano has assisted them all in “figuring” this out. “If” that is the case, and that’s a BIG “If”, then it’s gonna be one heck of season offensively!!!

    • CharlieSpencer-Davis

      If all the guys could perform the way their talent is capable of, it could very well be the case! The only issue is that it’s hard to hope and hope that’s going to happen. You’re on point and my fingers are crossed with you because it would be a treat to see the Mariners compete this season.

    • BigDog330

      GD – Lot’s of good points. I don’t like it when people say that Spring training results don’t matter at all. You just shouldn’t make too many decisions with them. It is always nice to see a player start to hit to all fields. When I see Ackley have a good spring, I get excited since it follows a good finish to last season. Smoak is streaky, so I won’t let my hopes go too high with him.
      However, the Mariners seem to use spring numbers to select their 25 man roster too often. Just by saying that almost all jobs are up for grabs during the spring is crazy. Who is going to cut Cano if he has a bad spring? That is being a little silly, but even young veterans like Ackley, Smoak, and Seager, shouldn’t lose there jobs based on spring results. They have enough history to win or lose their job before spring even starts. Do we have anyone better? No. Ok, the job is yours. Go get ready for the season. If anyone is hitting .180 in July, then they should worry. Even by matching Miller vs. Franklin in spring tells me that the M’s think the history of those two were equal going into spring. Really?
      When the M’s signed a veteran guy like Baker, I think they should have almost ignored his spring numbers. He showed he was healthy enough to pitch at the end of last season, so they should have used those numbers and his major league history to make their decision. It looks like he was cut because his spring numbers were not great. If they liked him in January they should have still liked him enough to cross their fingers and given him a few starts in April. Once again, we didn’t have anyone better at the time.

  • Reuven Bolnick

    While the numbers in spring training mean very little, the approach players take can translate to success. Smoak’s swing seems a lot more natural/compact and he isn’t trying to kill the ball every time he is up. More so than in the past, Justin seems calm and ready. He doesn’t seem as effected by the pressure as was the last couple years. Does this mean he will be the player we always hoped? No, but it doesn’t mean he’ll be a failure either. I think this could be a big year for the “core” and the M’s as well. GO MARINERS!!!

  • lee cousins

    Seems like were all stuck on Smoak all over again,……..hope springs eternal.

    • BigDog330

      If Smoak finally puts it all together, great. At least this year we have Morrison and Hart standing by to try their luck. I can never get too high on Smoak, because he will always be a turtle on the base path and defenses will continue to use the shift against him. It is really hard to get a ground ball single when you only use half the infield and can’t bunt.