Toronto Blue Jays News

Blue Jays: Platoon vs. solo Smoak at first base

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Mar 28, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays infielder Justin Smoak (14) bats in the second inning of the spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays infielder Justin Smoak (14) bats in the second inning of the spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /
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Justin Smoak has a clear path to full-time play at first base for the Toronto Blue Jays following the suspension of platoon-mate Chris Colabello. It was a platoon that was lopsided at times, swinging from one player to the other, so this will be Smoak’s truest chance to establish himself as the number one option in Toronto.

Manager John Gibbons has indicated that Smoak will be given that opportunity, but acknowledges a bat will soon be added in Colabello’s place. Expect that move to come after todays game when spot-starter Drew Hutchison is demoted. 

Smoak holds a career .719 OPS against right-handed pitching but just a .657 mark against left-handers. These did flip in 2015, but over a sample size that is too small to extract any real value from. So with this, the Blue Jays could be looking for a lefty-masher to pair with Smoak.

Jesus Montero is playing very well at triple-A Buffalo as the former top prospect becomes another of Toronto’s many minor league reclamation projects, including Bisons’ outfielders Domonic Brown and Junior Lake.

Montero has struggled at the Major League level throughout his career, but does hold a nice line against left-handed pitching of .292 / .341 / .429 (.770 OPS).

Matt Dominguez is red-hot himself, but a career Major League OPS of .667 against lefties is only 25 points higher than his mark against right-handers, and not nearly enough to overwhelm in a platoon. His exceptional defence will continue to be the driving force behind Dominguez eventually earning a spot on the 25-man roster.

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With Montero as the most fitting option for Smoak, there are other factors to then consider. Would the Blue Jays feel comfortable with Montero seeing time in the field with any level of consistency, where he’s started just 26 Major League games? Would the club be open to Edwin Encarnacion playing defence on those days, allowing Montero to DH?

Beyond that, the most important question remains: Is the possibility of Montero outperforming Smoak against left-handers likely enough, and does it hold significant enough value, to be worthwhile?

If Montero were to have splits as exaggerated as old friends Danny Valencia (vs. LHP) or Adam Lind (vs. RHP), it’s an easy decision. With such a narrow gap, however, and Smoak’s surprisingly strong play against lefties last season, he’s earned the opportunity to be pencilled in every day regardless of who Toronto calls up following Sunday’s start.

This isn’t to say it should be the longterm plan, though. Past Montero and Dominguez, the Blue Jays also have Brown, Lake, and veteran first-baseman Casey Kotchman, all of whom have the potential to be valuable with varying ceilings.

Toronto reportedly does not intend to look outside of the organization at that time, but if the time does come, a 1B/DH “bat” type is not the most difficult position to find in baseball. For now, though, Justin Smoak needs a nod of the head and an open road in front of him. He’s hitting just .208 early this season, but with an incredible 10 walks, Smoak is clearly seeing the ball.

Give Smoak a month, maybe even more. At that time, the Blue Jays will more accurately know how complete a player they have, For better or for worse.

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