Justin Smoak Could Breakout Big…and Soon

Young players are always though to judge in fantasy baseball. Sure, their minor league stats look great, but that doesn’t always translate into immediate production at the big league level. Justin Smoak seems to have run into a bit of this early on.

Called up in April to replace the whiffing Chris Davis, Smoak has struggled to get hits over his first 56 Major League at-bats. Smoak has eleven hits in those 56 at-bats, six of which have gone for extra bases.
However, there are plenty of positives to go with Smoak’s early performance…
  • He has shown plenty of power as noted by three doubles and three home runs.
  • He has great plate discipline (15.7 percent walk rate).
  • His contact rate is above league average (84 percent)
  • Despite the low AVG, Smoak has been hitting line drives from both sides of the pate.
It’s that last point that is the most telling.
Smoak has put 12 balls in play that have been classified as line drives, representing 24.5 percent of his balls in play. Despite the 24.5 percent line drive rate, Smoak’s BABIP is an extremely low .174. Given his power, line drive, fly ball and ground ball numbers, Smoak’s xBABIP is .292 (via the expected BABIP from The Hardball Times). In other words, Smoak has been extremely unlucky so far.
Small sample size or not, Smoak should have a higher AVG to show for the way he has swung the bat so far.
About that power: Some may be wondering what his actual ceiling is in that department. Smoak hit 12 home runs in 385 at-bats in the minors last season (32 AB/HR rate), which is not very impressive at first glance, but he battled an oblique injury for most of the season. That winter Smoak hit nine home runs in the IBAF World Cup. Prospect guru Kevin Goldstein of Baseball prospectus continues to tout Smoak as a “switch-hitting Justin Morneau” with power to all fields.
Justin Smoak is only 23-years-old, but he has an extremely advanced bat for his age both power wise and discipline wise. Sooner or later his hits will come. When that happens we should see a quick upshot in AVG and OBP. The only thing that may hold him back is some struggles against left-handed pitching.
Even after all the factors that point to an improvement from Smoak this season, there’s one more to take into consideration: the Arlington Factor. As summer hits it’s full stride and the Texas heat begins to rise, that Ballpark becomes a launching pad; a power hitter’s dream.
Before long Smoak is going to catch fire (I couldn’t resist).