With much of the Blue Jays’ lineup clicking, Justin Smoak has been on a downturn since the beginning of June
Toronto Blue Jays first-baseman Justin Smoak teased a breakout season early in 2016. With Chris Colabello suspended and Smoak thrust into an everyday role with little competition, Smoak was hitting for power and creating quality at-bats.
By May 14th, Smoak was hitting .314 with a .448 on-base percentage and an OPS of .948. Not sustainable, of course, given his stratospheric BABIP at the time, but Smoak emerging as an .800+ OPS hitter seemed legitimately possible.
Since June 1st, however, it’s been an entirely different story.
In 31 games since then (90 plate appearances), Smoak is hitting just .160 with a .590 OPS thanks to a BABIP that has swung in the other direction and a 35.6 strikeout percentage. On the season, Smoak is sporting a strikeout rate of 31.8%, a career high.
Smoaks two “halves” balance out to a relatively average season for him when it comes to averages and his projected counting stats, but with his arrow currently pointing down and limited in-house flexibility, another two weeks of poor plate performance could open the Blue Jays to an insurance bat.
Colabello is nearing a return from his 80-game suspension, and while it’s possible that Colabello provides a quiet boost to the bottom of the 25-man roster in-season, his playoff ineligibility is a hindrance. Even with Smoak struggling, it’s possible that Colabello comes out of his suspension with an optioning to triple-A Buffalo.
In Buffalo, Jesus Montero is coming off another hot streak and an appearance at the All-Star Game. The former top prospect is hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI, but his limited defensive profile would mean that Edwin Encarnacion would need to start the majority of games at first base. Montero has started just 24 games at first in 2016.
Thankfully for the Blue Jays, Encarnacion’s defensive abilities are more than enough given his bat, and if it comes to the point where they must look for an external addition, a bat-first DH-type is not exactly the market’s most expensive asset.
Jose Bautista‘s return could eventually handle this issue entirely. Bautista is still working his way back from a turf toe injury, but could conceivably return as a designated hitter earlier than he could as a right-fielder. If Ezequiel Carrera can continue to provide value in right, this decision becomes even easier.
Smoak’s power potential and quality glove can keep him aboard as a nice bench piece in this situation, but his bat needs to come along. As a pinch-hitter late in games, there is room for a home-run-or-bust roll of the dice, but the Blue Jays also need someone to put a bat on the ball.