By Brent Stecker
Justin Smoak hasn't developed into the power-hitting, middle-of-the-lineup cog the Mariners hoped he would become when they acquired him from the Texas Rangers in 2010. Though he's looked serviceable since returning to the team from an injury June 18, he has three-plus disappointing MLB seasons to his credit. So what are the expectations for the 26-year-old first baseman?
Justin Smoak has hit three home runs since returning from injury on June 18, but he only has six homers this season in 59 games. (AP)
Mariners insider Shannon Drayer joined 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny," and she pointed out why Seattle continues to give Smoak chances.
"You definitely have time in that he's still under club control, and you've got him for next to nothing right now," Drayer said. "We see throughout baseball so many examples of guys who are just flat-out late bloomers. ... Is it a little alarming to see the hits but nothing with runners in scoring position right now? Yes. But he's not blocking anybody over there. I think a lot of potential is still there."
Smoak is hitting .259 with six home runs, nine doubles, 13 RBI, and a .756 OPS this season, but three homers, three doubles and five RBI have come since his return from a strained oblique.
A large fear surrounding the possibility of the Mariners cutting ties with Smoak is the emergence of late bloomers like the Orioles' Chris Davis, who has been the league's best-hitting first baseman this season, and the Padres' Chase Headley, who was one of the top power hitters in the NL last year.
"If you look at the swing, if you look at his physical-ness, if you look at the fact that he's a switch-hitter, all of those things would kind of lend you to believe, if you can do it, you don't want him to be the one that gets away and all of the sudden turns into Chris Davis," Drayer said. "I'm not saying he's going to, but you don't want that to happen."
The Mariners are still looking for some consistency from Smoak, who had an all-or-nothing game Thursday against Texas, hitting a single and a double but striking out in each of his three other at-bats.
"Yesterday was a disaster -- every time he stepped up to the plate and there was a runner in scoring position, nothing, and every time he stepped to the plate and there wasn't, he came through," Drayer said. "But the fact that he's coming through in any situation right now I think is a step in the right direction.
"Again, you want to see what's there. I always have an eye open for something else, because he certainly hasn't proved it at this level. He's proved he can survive a big-league season, he's proved that he plays a good first base, but for what you got him for, and that was, 'You're 6-foot-4, we wanna see those 25 to 30 home runs from you a year,' we certainly haven't seen that yet."