Baseball 2012: Seattle Mariners' Justin Smoak, Breakout Year or Bust?

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Baseball 2012: Seattle Mariners' Justin Smoak, Breakout Year or Bust?
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
The Seattle Mariners are hoping Justin Smoak lives up to the lofty expectations in 2012

Justin Smoak is considered by many to be one of the top prospects in baseball. He was so well thought of that the Seattle Mariners parted with a Cy Young award winner in Cliff Lee to get him. But Smoak, who many have said could be the next Mark Teixeira, has hit more like one-time Mariner Bruce Bochte.

Let's face it, the Seattle Mariners of 2011 were not going to make anyone forget the 1927 New York Yankees. They finished last in the American League in hitting (.233) and last in runs scored (534).

With that in mind, manager Eric Wedge decided to plop Justin Smoak into the No. 4 hole in the lineup. Not exactly the ideal spot for a youngster just learning his way in the big leagues, but it's never too early for a player to start developing. It may have been a case of too much too soon for Smoak, who hit .234 with 15 homers and 55 RBI. 

Wedge plans on keeping Smoak in the No. 4 spot again this year.

"He's going to be right in the middle of everything,"  Wedge said during spring training.

Smoak hit a robust .378 in spring training, but with no home runs. He did homer during the Mariners' opening series in Japan against the A's. He should also benefit by having the newly acquired Jesus Montero in the lineup, who should provide some protection for Smoak.

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