Justin Smoak doing little to earn MLB roster spot
Justin Smoak entered this Spring with a majority chance to make the Toronto Blue Jays 25-man roster out of camp, perhaps one of the best opportunities he could find around the league right now. The former top prospect and current failed prospect is part of a tangled web that spans first base and designated hitter, but his early performance has left much to be desired.
Through his first 25 at-bats, Smoak has recorded just two base hits and struck out six times. The sample size, of course, is microscopic, but these numbers will quickly put him in danger of losing his job if they continue to snowball. As part of a true, tryout-style competition for a roster spot, Spring performance can be given serious weight.
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The Blue Jays roster is loaded with decisions that are dependant on other decisions. Due to these domino effects, Smoak’s job with Toronto is not only based on his own performance, but the makeup of the roster around him and the flexibility that it offers. Speaking of flexibility, as a strict first baseman, Smoak is not grading out highly in that area either.
Dioner Navarro and Edwin Encarnacion‘s roles will play strongly into this. If Navarro is expected to DH often, does that mean the Blue Jays forecast Encarnacion as seeing some level of playing time at first? Considering the need for a fourth outfielder, at least one utility infielder and the remote chance that Josh Thole again surfaces as a third catcher, Smoak may be in a fight with Daric Barton and Danny Valencia for the remaining 1-2 spots.
Valencia offers the ability to play both first and third, positioning him as a backup to Josh Donaldson and a quality bench bat against left handed pitching, where he holds a career line of .327 / .368 / .502. His value in a platoon role is difficult to replace, and he has shown some improvement defensively at first early this Spring.
In Barton, the Jays may have the antithesis of Smoak. His game rests on incredible plate discipline that has the potential to put him close to a 1:1 K:BB ratio. Barton has flashed some great defensive talent this Spring, too, which helps him in drawing even with Smoak.
Putting Smoak’s bat in the Rogers Center with regular at-bats remains a tantalizing option with his existing power potential. Will his Major League swing suddenly click at 28, though, or will the Blue Jays be the next in a long line of disappointed suitors? Smoak still has every opportunity to make the club and contribute, but eventually, he’s going to need to give the Blue Jays a reason.
Next: Blue Jays Spring Training surprise: Caleb Gindl