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March 6, 2012 posted by Paul Greco

Fantasy Baseball 2012- Breakout Players: Justin Smoak

Fantasy Baseball 2012- Breakout Players: Justin Smoak
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Justin Smoak, First Baseman, Seattle Mariners

One of these days, Justin Smoak’s production on the field will match his hype.

The switch-hitting first baseman has impressive power from both sides of the plate and has shown that he can control the strike zone very effectively.  Smoak has produced above average walk rates at all levels of the Minor Leagues and strikes out at an average pace.

He also generates excellent bat speed and displays a swing that is short to the point of contact. Smoak passes the eye test at the plate with flying colors and certainly deserves the comparisons to Mark Teixeira that he’s been given since college. Equally as important, his plus glove at first won’t be responsible for playing him out of the lineup.

There are a number of reasons why 2012 will be a breakout year.

First and foremost, Smoak was hampered by a thumb injury in 2011. Any hand injury is bound to disrupt a power hitter’s development. If you can’t grip the bat at 100%, how can you be expected to hit to your power potential? Furthermore, how can you be expected to hit at all? He also suffered from a rolled ankle in May, a broken nose in August, and a strained groin in September.

For as much as the injuries factored into the equation, Smoak also had to deal with the passing of his father in April. His father was more like his best friend, making the loss a terrible one to swallow. For a 25-year-old, he had a lot of adjusting to do. It’s pretty unfair to expect him to come out of looking like a rose.

Smoak’s splits present the biggest case for a breakout season. He hit 4 HR in each of the first three months of the season but his batting average struggled. After posting a horrendous July and missing nearly all of August, Smoak returned from injury in September and ended the season with a bang by hitting .301 with 3 HR and 11 RBI in 73 AB.

Many will point to Safeco Field as a major reason why Smoak’s power has suffered over the course of his short career. 10 of his 15 HR were at home last year, however, leading me to believe that this is bigger than the ballpark. His BABIP in 2011, .273, was below average but acceptable for someone as slow as he is. My biggest worry, though, is that Smoak’s FB% dropped and his GB% rose in 2011. Even during his productive September, Smoak’s GB% was 43.4% (1.10 GB/FB rate). For someone who hasn’t been comfortable at the plate, I’m willing to ignore these numbers for now. 73 plate appearances are not enough for someone suffering through a derailed season to correct a ground ball problem. Even if his thumb problems subsided, it’s still fair to assume that he changed his grip on the bat to minimize the pain.  Such adjustments could easily contribute to an increase in ground balls.

The Seattle Mariners lineup offers Smoak a great environment as he attempts to grow. Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Trayvon Robinson and Mike Carp are all 25 and under. The team’s average age is 26.5 years old and Seattle won’t win anything this year but there will be a lot of competition within the organization. Smoak will be pushed, especially by Carp, to perform, and his future in Seattle depends upon success this year. They won’t be afraid to sell if they believe he’s a lost cause.

Smoak’s tools are impossible to ignore. His plate discipline, power, and bat speed are superb and anyone can see why the Texas Rangers drafted him 9th overall. For a breakout candidate, though, Smoak is no-risk, high-reward buy. Mockdraftcentral.com has him as the 20th 1B off the board although he’s being drafted in the same neighborhood as Daniel Murphy, James Loney, Mitch Moreland, Derrek Lee, and Todd Helton. This group has already shown us what they’re capable of. Either age or a lack of skills holds them back from being impact players on your fantasy roster. A .255 BA with 20 HR and 75 RBI is reasonable with his tools in 2012.

Maybe, just maybe, he’ll produce the numbers to match his hype.

Paul finished the 2011-2012 Fantasy Football season as the #1 Weekly Rankings & Projections winner of the 411Fantasy Expert Challenge. He also finished 2nd in the FantasyPros.com Expert Draft Accuracy Challenge in 2011. Top 10 Finisher in the FSWA Fantasy Football Draft Projections. Paul is also apart of baseballs elite as a member of Tout Wars. You can follow me on Twitter @PaulGreco
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