Toronto Blue Jays 2016 season previews: Justin Smoak


Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak returns for his second season in Toronto and could still quietly emerge as a late-blooming offensive force

Continuing on with our 2016 Blue Jays preview that began yesterday with pitcher Marco Estrada, slugging first baseman and designated hitter Justin Smoak is next on the docket.

The 29-year-old switch-hitter continues to be a story of what could have been, but at the same time, optimism remains that his bat can still click late in his career and help propel him towards being the top-level producer many expected him to become as a younger player in Texas and Seattle.

Now in his final year of arbitration, Smoak and the Blue Jays agreed to a salary of $3.9 million for the upcoming season.

2015 Production Recap

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As part of the three-headed monster at first base and designated hitter with Chris Colabello and Edwin Encarnacion, Smoak did well to make it into 132 games. Many of these came as a late defensive substitution, of course, but with 328 plate appearances, Toronto got a long look at his bat.

Smoak produced a slash line of .226 / .299 / .470 with 18 home runs and 59 RBI, providing the Blue Jays with their most trusted glove at first and earning a FanGraphs WAR of 0.6.

2016 Role & Steamer Production

The playing time spit between Smoak and Colabello will be one of the more interesting variables on this roster heading into the new season. My gut tells me that Colabello’s play will influence this more than Smoak’s, but if Smoak does manage to put up a strong case, he’s by no means roadblocked.

Steamer projects Smoak to see a slight dip in plate appearances with 291 with a slight bump in average but a rather large regression in terms of his slugging percentage. More on that in a moment.

What could go wrong?

Dealing with the regression of his ISO could prove difficult for Smoak, whose 2015 ISO of .243 represents a significant spike above his career numbers and averages. This is why Steamer projects his slugging percentage to fall from that .470 level in 2015.

He’ll also be at the mercy of those around him with the play of Encarnacion and Colabello. A full season of daily at-bats could be just what Smoak needs to establish himself as an impact bat at this point in his career, but in Toronto, it appears he’ll be forced to jump in and out of the lineup.

Next: Jays rumours: Bautista negotiations coming this spring?

What could go right?

Smoak is flawed, as we all know, but his offensive game could easily be one or two small tweaks away from taking a significant jump in terms of consistency. That consistency, really, is what Smoak is after.

He also struck out 26.2% of the time in 2015, a number that sits above his career average of 22.7% and could benefit him by shrinking slightly. Smoak fell just two home runs shy of a career high last season, but in nearly 200 fewer plate appearances, so his power ceiling is still very much alive.

The Bottom Line

Even in the worst case scenario of Colabello earning the lion’s share of first base reps, Smoak is a perfectly fine bench asset that most major league clubs would be happy to have. While his bat can be boom-or-bust, he does offer a late-game power option in pinch-hit situations and can help to tighten the infield defense late.