Justin Smoak Catching Fire for Seattle Mariners

By Matt Lanka
Justin Smoak
Steven Bisig – USA Today Sports

The Seattle Mariners just took two of three from both the Texas Rangers and the Cincinnati Reds on the road, so it seems as good a time as any to look at Justin Smoak‘s contributions to the team. Smoak was traded from the Rangers to the Mariners in 2010 along with Blake Beavan, Josh Leuke and Matt Lawson in exchange for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe.

For Seattle, Smoak was (and still is) the centerpiece of the trade. He was to develop into a strong mid-lineup hitter, a switch-hitting Josh Hamilton Jr. who would be the power amongst the core of young Mariner infielders that would include Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin.

However, like too many recent Mariner investments of both time and money, Smoak has taken longer than expected to pan out. In 2011 (his first full year with the Mariners), Smoak hit 15 home runs with 55 RBI in 489 plate appearances over 123 games. It wasn’t a bad season in the least and held promise for the future. 2012 was even better for Smoak. Despite a less-than-impressive .217 batting average, he hit 19 homers with 51 RBI in 535 plate appearances over 132 games.

2013 has found Smoak overcoming his offensive and defensive shortcomings and rebounding from significant past injuries to begin to become the kind of hitter he was projected to be. Though in 239 plate appearances over 61 games he has managed only seven home runs and 15 RBI, he is hitting a decent .257 for the season (good for fourth best on the team) and batting .310 with three of those homers in just the last 10 games. For now, the offensive slack is being picked up by veterans like Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales. But the Mariners still want to see Smoak in the middle of the lineup on a daily basis, and it’s beginning to look like he may be up to the task after all. The latter half of this season will likely tell the Mariners whether they will continue to pin their hopes on Smoak or choose to invest elsewhere.

Smoak has persevered through a couple of significant injuries and batting slumps since 2010. The Mariners haven’t yet seen a truly breakout season from him, but his recent work is very promising. Until he can prove himself to be a solid, everyday infielder who can hit for power consistently, the Mariners will be forced to look elsewhere for the numbers he should be providing. However, Smoak’s recent numbers are showing that he is more than capable, and I am looking forward to how he and other young Mariners will propel the team into the future.

Matt Lanka is a Mariners writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattlanka, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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