|Smoak Needs to Catch Fire|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on April 27, 2010
An 0 for 8 tends not to worry a veteran hitter, but for a rookie who's getting his first real shot at the bigs, not to mention an everyday job, that has to be worrying.Â Unlike Ike Davis who proved his worth in New York almost immediately young Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak has yet to get his first hit at the Major League level.
While Smoak has been universally acclaimed the first baseman of the future in Arlington by the media, and maybe even internally by the organization, the question remains as to just how ready Smoak is to contribute this year.Â The Rangers aren't looking for him to be a Kendry Morales, but they can't afford to let him struggle too long against Major League pitching if they hope to contend this season.
Maybe, just maybe, the Rangers are wondering if they rushed things.Â After all the youngster doesn't even have 135 games of minor league experience with just 599 plate appearances and including his 0 for 8 at the Major League level he has a grand total of 500 official at-bats.
That's been obscured by a huge amount of media hype -- like Baseball America's ranking him as the 23rd-overall prospect in baseball back in 2009 and just about every fantasy writer in the country writing him up as if he were to be the next Albert Pujols.Â And that might be premature -- because while Smile was hitting .300 (not .326 as has been widely written) at AAA he was doing so in just 50 AB in a hitters league -- the same league he hit just .244 (237 AB) at in 2009.
That means that Smoak is far from a sure thing, at least when it comes to what he'll produce this year but if you notice the difference in the Plate Appearances and At Bats two paragraphs above, what you'll see is that the youngster knows how to take a walk -- racking up 97 free trips to first in those 500 AB (including 4 so far his first weekend up) -- something Chris Davis did just 49 times in 783 plate appearances.
What that boils down to is that even without a hit, Smoak already has an OBP more than 100 points greater than Davis did at the time of his demotion and almost 100 points better than what Davis achieved last year.Â That's something the Rangers need, although they have yet to figure out how to capitalize on it (since the guys hitting behind him are all hitting close to the Mendoza line).
It creates a quandary for manager Ron Washington since no one has yet driven Smoak home despite the 4 walks.Â After all what good does having a guy with a good OBP do you if he never scores, and if he never manages to drive in Nelson Cruz or Vladimir Guerrero in front of him?
That's a question the Rangers will only have to answer if Smoak fails to start hitting after another week or so, but what they hope is that what they saw at AAA was real and that Smoak is ready to catch fire at this level.Â If he doesn't, Chris Davis and his big swing could be back.