By R.J. Anderson //
Given the happenings of the past few days, it’s safe to say most baseball fans are wholly aware of Justin Smoak’s name and new location. The new Mariners’ first baseman is going to have a difficult time making fans forget about just how special Cliff Lee is, but he should do a wonderful job making them forget just how terrible Casey Kotchman was.
Smoak is only 23 years old and a switch-hitter who the Rangers took 11th overall in the 2008 draft. He’s from Goose Creek, South Carolina which is also the birthplace of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. Rated as the 13th-best prospect in baseball entering this season by Baseball America, Smoak spent only 15 games in the minors during the season, hitting .300/.470/.540 with two homers and six doubles. For his minor league career, which reaches nearly 600 plate appearances, he hit .293/.411/.461.
Not everything is sparkles and giggles however. In nearly 300 major league plate appearances he’s hit .208/.310/.356. That’s not enough time to label a player with his pedigree as a bust, but it’s enough time to make antsier fantasy owners a bit concerned. In down times is when doubts start to creep into people’s minds. Like, maybe Smoak only has warning track power. Or maybe he’s just going to be another Lyle Overbay. You don’t want to trade one of the best pitchers in baseball for a Lyle Overbay.
One projection system, CHONE, had him pegged at .240/.340/.363 this season. Kotchman, for instance, has hit .218/.299/.370 this year and it seems unrealistic to think Smoak would provide less pop than a first baseman who is renowned for his inability to hit his way out of a paper bag.
Still, the reality is Smoak might not contribute much this season. That’s fine, but what about those in keeper leagues who have the chance to add him cheap? That is definitely worth the risk. Even though Smoak will play most of his games in Safeco Field, he will spend most of his time batting from the left-handed batter’s box, meaning Safeco’s constrictor-like death grip on right-handed power won’t affect him as much as, say, Jose Lopez or Adrian Beltre. Of course the same could’ve been applied to Milton Bradley, and he’s got one of the worst slugging percentages of his career.
Bottom line: Stay away from Smoak in standard leagues, grab him in keeper leagues.