The Seattle Mariners had high hopes for first baseman Justin Smoak when they acquired him from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Cliff Lee. At the time, GM Jack Zduriencik turned his back on a deal with the New York Yankees that would have netted Seattle Jesus Montero in exchange for Lee. However, once the Rangers offered Smoak, Zduriencik spurned the Yankees and dealt Lee to a division rival.
Smoak has not exactly lived up to the lofty expectations that came with being the eleventh overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft. Leading up to the draft, Smoak was drawing comparisons to Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira, an excellent fielder who could hit for power and average from both sides of the plate. Unfortunately, Smoak struggled out of the gate after making his Major League debut with the Texas Rangers, hitting just .209 with 8 home runs in 70 games before the trade. He didn’t fare much better in Seattle, hitting .239 with 5 homers in 30 games. Regardless, Smoak was still young, 23 years old at the time, and struggles can be expected for young players.
Smoak entered the 2011 season expected to emerge as the hitter everyone thought he would become. Smoak got off to a decent start and was hitting .315 with 5 home runs by May 6th. However, the wheels came off shortly after and he was hitting .253 by May 31st. By the end of the season his average was down to .234. Mariners fans and baseball talking heads were starting to wonder if Justin Smoak would be a bust.
Smoak didn’t do much to disprove his critics as the 2012 season began. He got off to a slow start, posting a slash line of .200/.247/.325 by the end of April with only 2 home runs. By May 9th, Smoak was hitting .173 on the year. Then, something seemed to click with Smoak. He went 3-for-4 on May 11th against the New York Yankees. On May 13th, also against the Yankees, Smoak hit his first home run of the month and only his third of the year. Things slowly were beginning to click for Smoak.
As May draws to a close, Smoak now sits at .231 with 9 home runs and 27 RBI. Hardly impressive numbers but definitely encouraging. Since May 25th, Smoak has hit 4 home runs and driven in 12 runs while going 9-for-24 in that span, a .375 average, capped off by a 3-for-5, 2 home run, 6 RBI night in a 21-8 romp over the Texas Rangers.
It is too early to tell whether Smoak is finally starting to put it together. However, the signs are encouraging. Smoak still has a long way to go but perhaps he is finally turning things around. At 25 years-old, there is still time to figure things out but some of the shine was certainly coming off of his prospect star. There is a good chance that we have not yet seen the best Smoak has to offer.