With the Seattle Mariners adding sluggers Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales to the mix for 2013, incumbent first baseman Justin Smoak knows that it won’t take very much more than an extended slump to have first base being swept from underneath him.
This spring, he’s wasting no time staking his claim on the job.
The 26-year old former top prospect made a booming first impression in his first start for the M’s in the team’s second game, hitting a two-run homer off Brad Boxberger and breaking through the barrier that he did not pass in camp last season. Two days later, he added a pair of hits in a 2-for-2 day that included a double, while scoring his second run of the spring.
Though he’s yet to draw a walk after a pair of outings, it’s undoubtedly the start that Smoak wanted for what could be a make-or-break season.
It’s easy to look at Smoak and see that his .217/.290/.364 triple-slash last season should have already eliminated him from the equation at first base, but that the Mariners still believe in the 26-year old’s post-hype upside should say how much potential there is in his bat.
The M’s got a glimpse of it over Smoak’s final 24-games in 2012, as he put up a .341/.426/.580 triple slash that included five homers in 104 PA. It was enough to earn the first baseman an inside track to hang on to his job this season, and it looks as though the switch-hitter has carried that hot streak over in the spring.
That said, it is just a two-game, five at-bat sample size, and it will have to be sustained through the next month and into the season. In fact, conventional baseball logic would say that three hits over five at-bats don’t count for very much at all.
But, for a player like Smoak, whose margin of error is almost non-existent these days, each at-bat this spring could mean the difference between a longer leash on his role with the Mariners in 2013, or slipping into a backup/platoon role that could set his career back further.
For that, he’s going to make each one count.