Arlington, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak (17) hits a three run home run during the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE
On May 9, Justin Smoak saw his OPS slip under 500, to 492, thanks to a an 0-for-3 day at the plate. He was hitting just .173/.229/.264, and while part of that can be pinned on his home park, a pitcher-friendly haven known as Safeco, it certainly was mostly Smoak's doing.
Since that day, though, he's looked like a different hitter in terms of results. In his last 23 games and 99 plate appearances, the switch-hitting first baseman owns a .311/.374/.567 line, one of the rare moments where he's looked like the player fans and analysts thought was in the Rangers farm system a couple of years ago, the one the Mariners thought they were getting in exchange for Cliff Lee at the trade deadline.
That horrific start to the year keeps him from looking like an attractive waiver option, and the impact his home park has on his numbers looms large, regardless of how good he looked in May. It's hard to ignore the damage Safeco has done to hitters over the years, just like it's difficult to un-see Smoak's .235/.295/.400 line for the year.
He's getting there, though, and while he's been around for a while, he's not quite ancient, either. He's just 25 years old, a year younger than another former Rangers prospect, Chris Davis. Davis is having his own breakout, with a .295/.333/.497 line, and he never had the hype Smoak did during his own years in the minors. (Davis was the #65 prospect in Baseball America's top 100 once, while Smoak's "worst" finish was at #23; his best, #13.)
It's difficult to believe Smoak has actually turned a corner, but there are some encouraging signs that might make him worth stashing until you know the truth of the matter. He struck out 19 percent of the time during his May 11 and onward stretch, and drew free passes 11 percent of the time. He hit seven homers, nearly half of what he had in all of 2011, and now is just six bombs short of a new career-high.
He's hit well before, but injuries -- and, to an immeasurable extent, the passing of his father -- took their toll on his 2011 season. He's got far more miles on him than he did just a few years ago, but there's still plenty of talent here. Whether he finally has reached the point where it's going to consistently show up in his performances is something we won't know for a while yet, but given this is fantasy, you have to act before you know.