Thursday, January 20, 2011
Justin Smoak and Expectations
"Switch Hitting Justin Morneau"
"Top Ten Hitting Prospect in all of Baseball"
"Best Hitting Prospect in the Rangers Organization"
All these things have been said about Justin Smoak. Makes you kind of excited as a Mariner fan, doesn't it?
The inevitable problem are the expectations by fans. Will Justin Smoak be an All-Star first baseman in 2011? Probably not. But there's a good chance that he will be in the future. So let's just get to know Justin Smoak real quick and perhaps toss a few projections out there...
Smoak was a monster in college. Playing for South Carolina, he averaged a .333 batting average over three seasons, with better than 20 home runs and 70 RBI. Note that he had no more than 260 AB's in any of his three seasons. That's pretty staggering. Of course, there have been many a college player who looked like Babe Ruth that turned out more like Babe the pig, so take college stats with a salt lick rather than just a grain.
The more important part might be his walk to strikeout ratio which stood at roughly 150/100 over three years, suggesting an awfully good eye at the dish. And just to put things in perspective, his on base percentage over 758 plate appearances in three years in the minors is .404. Ichiro's OBP was .359 last season. The guy can get on base.
The college AB's are important, by the way, because he's relatively "old" for a newbie in the MLB since he gave South Carolina three of his formative years. He's much like Ackley in that way - he's not just some 16 year old that we plunked into the rookie league to see if something would stick. Smoak is 24 and he's had the rough equivalent of one full year of games in the minors after his signing.
In that time, he has demonstrated an excellent batting eye, an ability to hit for good average and excellent power. He doesn't strike out like a classic power hitter, he can hit for power from both sides of the plate and he has a plus glove at first base (but perhaps not the gold-glove label that followed him throughout the minors).
Most expect him to hit for good average, good to great power, and be a staple run producing bat in the Mariners lineup for years to come. Many predict 30+ home runs as an average as a major leaguer.
And here's the big but.
But it's probably not this year. Maybe not next year.
Projections for Smoak look like this:
ZiPS projects .228 with 16 HR's and 61 RBI. Excuse my French, but that's just a big dick in the mouth. He's not going to be that bad this year, he's just not.
Bill James says .249 with 19 HR's and 70 RBI. This, I can accept. Although if they let Smoak hit in the middle of the order (3-5) all season long and he winds up with 70 measly runs batted in, this is going to be the most painful Mariners season quite possibly ever.
The "fans" over at Fangraphs have projected .266/22/85, which I have to admit seems not only more palatable than any other projection I've seen but perhaps far more realistic, save perhaps the batting average which very well may suffer this season as he continues to adjust to major league pitching.
But I will say this, even if Smoak turns out to be a .250 hitter with an OBP of .350, hits 20 home runs and drives in 80 while playing an above average first base, he's going to be one of the more exciting Mariners to watch certainly this year, if not for the past several seasons.
So temper your expectations, and just hope that he blows you away. Smoak is one of the best things the Mariners have had in a long, long time.