You can call this piece a mea culpa of sorts, a story about how everything I’ve written about the Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak has been wrong.
My previous article from March 2017 provided arguments as to why Smoak shouldn’t be given the role of playing first base daily. Thankfully, Jays manager John Gibbons didn’t heed my advice and gave him that opportunity starting on Opening Day.
To say this season has been a bit of a disappointment is quite the understatement. The Jays are currently sitting in last place in the American League East, are nine games under .500 and have only won three out of their last ten games. Barring a miraculous happening in the next couple weeks or so, it’s probably safe to say the Jays won’t finish the season heading into the playoffs. But one of the few positives that have emerged from this frustration only needs two words as an introduction: Justin Smoak.
Smoak hit a paltry .226 in Spring Training this year with 19 strikeouts in 53 at bats, that’s a 36% strike out rate! When I saw those statistics, I couldn’t believe the Jays would consider him to play first base every day. Don’t forget his stats from 2016; 299 ABs with 112 SOs finishing the season with a depressing .217 average. I was adamant he shouldn’t be. And yet here we are, 97 games into the season with Smoak playing first base every day (plus or minus a game here or there). One look at his numbers and it’s evidently clear that Gibbons made one great and smart decision giving him that role.
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With a current average of .302 with 27 home runs and 64 RBIs, Smoak is having a dream season. He has already surpassed his previous season best in home runs (20 with the 2013 Seattle Mariners) and RBIs (59 with the 2015 Jays) and there’s still another 64 games left to play! In this year’s All Star Game, Smoak was voted in as the starting American League first baseman, a huge achievement, and honour. He finished that game going one for one with a walk. Quite an impressive achievement for this modest and simple ball player participating in his first All Star game.
Is this too good to be true? Will this last into next season? Did Smoak change his swing? Could it be because he now plays every day? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions but what I do know now, is that I was a critic of Justin Smoak for the last two seasons and now I’m not.
What we’re seeing right now in Justin Smoak isn’t a fluke or a good streak of hitting he’s putting together. What we’re seeing with Smoak is his true talent and potential coming out onto the field and at the plate. His defensive skills have always been stellar and he’s certainly not disappointed in that area this season. But his powerful offense has shown the fans, the critics, the skeptics, the haters and everyone else in between that being the every day first baseman is where he truly belongs. And I’ll be the first to say that everything I had previously written about Smoak has been wrong.