Talent. Potential. Upside. Such great words. So hard to quantify.
Does Justin Smoak have any upside left? Or is his 6’4″ frame bumping up against the ceiling of his potential?
It is fair to suggest that Smoak has been one of the more polarizing figures on the Mariners in the last couple of years. This is not due to his personality, but has more to do with his potential. Some fans believe that Smoak will eventually have that desirable “breakout” season. Others see a 27-year-old who has never lived up to the hype after he was the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade several years ago.
The Seattle Mariners made it clear in spring training that Smoak was the guy at first. At least, Lloyd McClendon did. However, Smoak may not have much of a future beyond this year if he doesn’t start hitting more consistently.
First base is one of those positions where you can plug in a lot of different guys, and sometimes teams will sacrifice a little defense for a great bat. Smoak, unfortunately, does not have a great bat.
Smoak is regarded as a great defensive first baseman. He literally saved the game on April 25 against the Texas Rangers when he bailed out Fernando Rodney by making a diving catch for an out that also doubled Elvis Andrus off of first. In addition, Smoak contributed a two-run double in the fifth and looked every bit like an everyday, impact first baseman.
The challenge is that these moments do not happen often. Smoak is hitting .237 this season, which is not much higher than his career .228 average. This average might be more acceptable if Smoak was a legitimate power hitter, but he has not been a consistent threat to put a lot of balls in the seats over his career. He hit 20 dingers in 2013, but that is not exactly an eye-popping number.
Will the Smoakamotive get better in 2014? Could we finally see a big year? The numbers suggest that a major improvement is unlikely to occur at this point. There is always hope, but Justin Smoak may always be just a decent player. Not great, and not particularly good. Decent.