To say Justin Smoak had a rough year at the plate is an understatement, but his September surge has Seattle Mariners coach Eric Wedge convinced it is the real thing finally.
Smoak has had multiple month-long hot streaks throughout his career like the one he had this past September only to fall back into even longer cold streaks.
Smoak has been downright awful at the plate in 2012, hitting .214/.284/.360 on the year, although with 19 home runs and 50 RBIs.
But in September as the Mariners attempted to play playoff spoilers, Smoak hit .338/.414/.584 for an OPS of .998, almost .200 more than his second-best month in June. Smoak also added four doubles and five home runs.
Coach Wedge told Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times that Smoak's surge looks like it is for real this time and that the struggling first baseman might finally be living up to his potential.
"I think it's the most real it's ever been in my time here,'' Wedge said. "Just because of the fundamental changes, and the consistency with which he's been able to sustain that swing, that approach, that mindset. The way he's taking pitches, the way the ball's coming off his bat from both sides of the plate. I'm as encouraged as I've ever been with him."
Smoak's future with the Mariners organization has been in doubt because, despite his young age, the once hyped-prospect has failed to consistently hit at the major league level. Wedge, who has plenty of experience with rebuilding clubs, says a slow approach is needed when evaluating the youngsters as some just pick up the game quicker than others.
"You look at all the great players - and there's a few that get it right away, a few I could talk about on one hand that are first-ball Hall of Famer guys. But more times than not and there's plenty of examples of it on other teams, it just takes time because it's the big leagues and the highest level in the world. It's just not that easy. That's why patience is rewarded more so in this game than any other sport. Because of the number of games you play and number of at-bats you have or innings you play and just the level of difficulty."
Wedge points to Michael Saunders, who struggled as a Mariner for three years during his various stints before finally putting it together and potentially finishing with 20 home runs in his first full season as an outfielder.
You talk about Michael Saunders last year at this time -- which we weren't -- and you talk about Michael Saunders right now, that's a great example internally. But if you look throughout the game and say, 'This guy is a pretty good player,' well, look at their first year or second year. What did they do in their first 1,000 at-bats? Maybe it's their first two years or 2 Â½ years, they're not the same guy you're seeing right now. That's why you've got to trust your ability to evaluate and give them the time to do that.