Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 11/20/12
Newyork-yankees-seattle
Don’t Give Up! As the offseason rumors rage on, it is no surprise that the Mariners are being talked about in nearly every offensive trade transaction out there. When looking where to place a power bat, it is only natural to be looking at first base. This makes sense as the position is the easiest to man defensively so the big, slow and strong guys like can still play ball. Prince Fielder, listed with an official weight of 275, is the epitome of this phenomena.  I personally doubt Prince has been anywhere near 275 in the past 5 years.  Trying to imagine Prince shagging fly balls or diving for a ball past second base is quite a humorous exercise. I personally really enjoy any time Prince tries to do his impression of “running” on the base-paths.  But man that guy can hit the ball. Prince at 275? Cmon. Power Needed In the M’s case they have not had a true power bat at first since Richie Sexson, who was crazy, and did not mix with Seattle well. In 2010 The Mariners reeling from one of the worst years in franchise history traded superstar lefty Cliff Lee in a mega trade with the Texas Rangers.  this trade involved a lot of prospects but essentially most fans equated the trade of being straight up Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak. Smoak was drafted as the 11th pick overall in the 2008 draft, the same year that the Mariners drafted a right handed pitcher named Joshua Fields, whoever that is.  2008 was a big draft year and has produced quite a few stars. The Giants drafted Buster Posey, the Brewers took Brett Lawrie and the Pirates acquired Pedro Alvarez.  Obviously Joshua Fields was the best pick by far, so the Mariners came out total winners. Wait, who is Joshua Fields? If there is one thing that the Rangers organization does well, it is drafting offense.  This is the same organization that brought Mark Teixeira through their farm.  Through his short minor league career Smoak was often compared with the switch hitting slugger. However, Smoak ended 2012 with an alarming .217 batting average and 19 home runs.  Power hitters often hit for a low average, but .217 isn’t even respectable.  All the numbers say that the M’s should give up on the 6’4” slow talking native of Goose Creek South Carolina, but I think there are more than numbers with Smoak, enough to make me still believe he can be the next Teixeira.  Here is why: He can get bigger Justin Smoak will turn 26 on December 5th.  The reason that many young guys don’t make it to the majors prior to this age is simply because their body has not finished developing yet.  Smoak is no exception. There is no doubt that he working from a base of natural strength.  The guy has a real girth to his legs to be able to drive the ball.  His original draft scouting reports lists the following as his physical condition: “Smoak has a large frame with a thick lower half. His upper body is pretty loose and moves easily.” 2008 MLB Scouting Report So he is big, but not fat. At the beginning of the 2012 spring training, Smoak indicated that his off season plan had been to play off his momma’s southern cooking.  While that is an admirable goal, if Smoak can build up more strength in his chest and arms through some solid time in the gym, he could have a break out season where his short comings are overlooked due to the fact he is putting the ball over the fence 40 times a season. He can get faster Any player moving from a minor league prospect to an every day major leaguer has to make adjustments at the plate. I haven’t given up on Smoak….yet. Though we may feel that “baseball is baseball” there really is a huge discrepancy between the major league level and the minors. The biggest difference is in the scouting.  Major league teams hire scouts that give an up to the minute profile on each player. Once it was shown that Smoak showed a temptation to swing at pitches below the knees, it wasn’t long until that was all he was seeing. (Check out the graph on prospectinsider.com that shows in detail Smoak’s pitch selection) http://prospectinsider.com/smoaks_swing_selection.php.) If you look at that graph you can clearly see that Smoak was able to use is brief stint in the Mariners top farm team AAA Tacoma to make that adjustment. In spring training Smoak was quoted as using the old baseball adage of “see ball, hit ball” but he clearly was doing neither.  While in Tacoma the hitting coach helped him to shorten his swing and become much more patient in waiting for a pitch that he knew he could hit as opposed to one that he thought he could. Here is the evidence that Smoak can adjust: Month AB Hits HR RBI BB K Avg. OBP April 71 15 2 8 5 19 .211 .263 Sept. 77 26 5 10 10 10 .338 .414   He can get motivated The Mariners won’t put up with a non-performing position player for much longer.  Case in point, Michael Saunders realized that his major league dreams were about to collapse with the team finding a lot more outfielders to compete with him. All he needed was to realize his back was against the wall. He was one of the amazing stories of the year. I didn’t even think he deserved a roster spot coming out of Spring Training.  Now I don’t think Franklin Gutierrez does.  Funny what a little competition can do. The M’s are looking at filling in their offensive woes at first with a few imported players, such as Billy Butler and Mike Napoli but have also indicated that Jesus Montero could be getting playing time there as well. Not to mention that Mike Carp and Dustin Ackley would both be prime candidates  to fill the role. Can Smoak see well enough to realize his days are numbered unless there is a change? I believe he can. I believe in Justin Smoak. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE SEATTLE MARINERS CLUBHOUSE AT NWSB!
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