SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 12: Justin Smoak #17 of the Seattle Mariners remains in the dugout for a moment after a 9-3 loss to the New York Yankees at Safeco Field on September 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Justin Smoak came to the Seattle Mariners as a highly touted prospect. Three years later he hasn't realized his potential. Is there any potential actually there?
The funny thing about the eternally struggling Seattle Mariner's offense is that each article that comes out from every beat writer, blogger, or random twitter post, never really gets old because there are just so many problems to attend to.
So for this one, we will turn our attention to someone who was originally thought to be a key cog in the rebuilding machine, and in a season of struggles there is one individual who has struggled the most.
Take a look at Justin Smoak's recent hitting line for the past two weeks. Smoak has started 13 straight games, hitting anywhere from fourth to seventh in the order, and has posted the following line: 4 - 47, one home run, three runs scored, three RBIs, and six walks. No doubles. No triples. No stolen bases. This is a slump, and a big one at that.
All major league batters go through slumps from time to time, and some are prone to longer ones than others. But the difference from other major league batters and Smoak is that with every week that passes, it is looking less like Smoak is slumping and more that he is overmatched - and sadly, Smoak just might be one of those guys who struggle to consistently cut it at the major league level.
For now, it really doesn't matter if he can cut it. The Mariners are on pace to drop over 90 games for the third straight season in yet another lost season. Mike Carp can come off the DL and maybe fill in at first base a bit, but with the team appearing to be committed to working Jesus Montero as much at catcher as they will fool him into thinking he can play there, there really isn't anyone waiting in the wings to fill Smoak's shoes - because that was supposed to be Smoak.
When the Mariners snared Smoak from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee trade it seemed at the time like a surefire win. Smoak was the 9th ranked prospect in 2010, wedged right between a couple of schmucks named Pedro Alvarez and Madison Bumgarner. Smoak had often been that untouchable prospect for Texas, and it all seemed on target for the Mariners to finally be accumulating an offense.
As the pretty much always spot on Dave Cameron pointed out earlier this week, in the last three decades there have been 55 first basemen with at least 1,000 plate appearances by the age of 25. Smoak by all metrics has been the worst of the bunch.
This isn't to say that Smoak won't go on to have a successful career in a different format at baseball, or maybe he will be like a Mike Morse and just need a change of scenery to grow into the player he is, but Smoak has spent the better part of his Seattle career trying to explain why he doesn't belong in the line-up everyday.
The maddening thing with Smoak is that at times he shows signs for why he belongs in the line-up at all times and why the Mariners should continue to build around him. He hit the threads off the ball in late May. He started 2011 like a solid cornerstone at first base. But the key in the major leagues, is that no matter how much potential someone showcases, they need to be able to do it on a consistent basis. A baseball season is a marathon with another marathon thrown on top for good measure. Smoak has shown to be a good sprinter at times, but he really doesn't seem to be in it for the long haul.
In his three seasons in the majors, Smoak has hit to a tune of .222/.304/.373. He has posted a -0.7 WAR. Smoak shows some power and a solid glove, but that is about it.
For the Mariners, it is time to give up on the Smoak project. There is no sense in holding their head down in shame about it. After all, a prospect is called a prospect because they haven't shown their mettle in the majors yet. And the man before Smoak on the watch list in 2010 hasn't exactly been lighting it up for the Pittsburg Pirates either.
Smoak hasn't done a whole lot to justify his spot in the line-up everyday. Outside of a lack of quality in replacements, he might as well stay in to try and salvage something from a lost season. But next year, Smoak shouldn't be coming into the team with a guaranteed roster spot. He shouldn't even be coming in with the "it is his to lose" mentality. Smoak lost his roster spot with a year of less then mediocre hitting, and it would do the Mariners rebuilding project a good thing to do what all good projects have - a plan B.