Blue Jays Spring Training 2015: Daric Barton to compete with Justin Smoak


A lot of attention and talk this winter has been focused on whether Justin Smoak can turn the corner and be a useful contributor for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. It seemed a foregone conclusion that he would make the team and could be slotted in at either first base or designated hitter.

However, Smoak’s status with the team may not be as guaranteed as previously thought.

Shi Davidi of Sportsnet is reporting that the Blue Jays may be considering an open competition in camp this spring, with Justin Smoak having to earn his spot on the Opening Day roster and minor league signing Daric Barton possibly challenging for the role. The outcome of said competiton, and the combined performance of both, will determine whether Edwin Encarnacion sees more time as first base or at designated hitter in 2015.

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Smoak and Barton have both taken different paths to the Blue Jays this spring. Originally claimed off waivers from the Seattle Mariners on October 28th, the Blue Jays non-tendered Justin Smoak earlier this winter rather than go to salary arbitration with him. The team then inked him to a much friendlier $1 million deal, but a deal that is guaranteed at the Major League level nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Daric Barton signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays on December 16th after spending his entire career with the Oakland Athletics. He was originally expected to be a depth signing and spend most of his season at Triple-A Buffalo.

Having a competition for the role may show just how much faith the Blue Jays have in Justin Smoak. Neither Barton or Smoak have shown much in the way of performance over the last several years. Smoak wrapped up 2014 with his third season below replacement level (-0.3 WAR) in his five-year career, hitting .202/.275/.339 last season for the Mariners.

On the other hand, Daric Barton spent most of his season at Triple-A Sacramento where he produced a .261/.371/.411 slash-line with 9 home runs and 56 RBI. However, he was abysmal after being called back up to Oakland, slashing just .158/.234/.175. Barton does appear to have some upside though, having put up a 4.8 win season in 2010 for Oakland.

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Offensively, Smoak adds a power component that Barton can’t measure up to. Justin Smoak has 20 home run potential if he can put consistent contact on the ball. Meanwhile, Barton has never developed the power that many predicted for him, topping out at 10 home runs during that glorious 2010 campaign.

While offense will be how they are measured once the season opens up, defense may be what sets them apart at camp. Barton is much more accomplished as a defender, putting up solid advanced metrics with a career 37 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), a UZR/150 of 9.2, and a 32.0 RngR (Range Runs Above Average) mark. Meanwhile, Smoak floats in the opposite direction with -16 DRS, 0.1 UZR/150, and 1.0 RngR. Given the fact that the team is looking to gain defense at first base, Barton would appear to hold the advantage here.

Personally speaking, neither player excited me much and I’d be wary to have either in starting capacity. Given the offensive struggles anticipated at second base, the left side of the infield, and in essence the bottom of the line-up, could be an Achilles heel for the Blue Jays in 2015.

However, I do have a tendency to prefer Barton in this regard. The defensive upside is tremendous, not to mention the tendency to make better contact ( 16.7 K/9 versus Smoak’s 22.2%) and to take a walk (13.9% versus 10.7%). Working pitchers at the bottom of the line-up may prove tremendously beneficial and could provide some offensive support in an unconventional way.

Next: Miguel Castro to start season in Dunedin