It’s a given that the Blue Jays will open season with Justin Smoak as their starting first baseman. He performed excellently last year in a bounce back season for the ages.
Despite his incredible campaign last season, it’s no guarantee he’ll recreate his offensive brilliance, or stay healthy, and the Blue Jays have options behind him.
After a 2016 season in which he batted .217 and struck out 112 times (37% of his registered at-bats), Justin Smoak rebounded in a big way. Playing 158 games in 2017, Smoak batted .270/.355/.529 with 38 home runs and 90 RBI and saw his strikeout percentage decrease by more than 15%. He was named an American League All-Star and was worth 3.2 WAR.
It’s fair to assume that the Goose Creek, South Carolina native will start the 2018 season as the starting first baseman. His offense appears to be trending upwards, his glove is as solid as ever, and he’s all but secured a spot in the ever-changing, new and improved Blue Jays lineup. Steamer projections predict him to slash a modest .249/.337/.475, with 30 bombs in 140 games. This projection, while conservative, is probably accurate given Smoak’s history of high strikeout percentages and low batting averages.
In baseball, it’s always important to consider what happens if players deviate from their projections, for better or for worse. Sure, Smoak could repeat his stellar year and reprise his role as the Jays’ cleanup hitter, or he could regress. The latter is more important to examine, as it has more severe ramifications. Luckily, the Jays’ organizational roster is packed with potential candidates if Smoak struggles this year.
Of course, it’s always better to be optimistic, but it’s even more valuable if that optimism is cautious in its magnitude. That being said, here are five potential replacements for the starting first base job if Justin Smoak stumbles during the 2018 season.