In 2010, the Seattle Mariners traded away one of the best starting pitchers of the decade in Cliff Lee. They received four prospects in return, one of them being the highly touted switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak.
He's played in almost exactly one full season's worth of games for Seattle (165) and has accumulated fairly disappointing numbers. His .236 batting average with the M's is nothing to write home about, and Smoak has struck out more often than he's hit safely.
Although he's totaled 22 home runs in those 165 games, Smoak is being labeled a bust, especially considering whom the Mariners gave up to get him.
It's a little too early to give up on Smoak though.
Sure his first full major league season didn't go as planned, just 15 homers and 55 RBI in 123 games, but the panic meter isn't in the red quite yet. Future Hall of Fame inductee and 600 home run club member Jim Thome hit the same number of home runs (30) in 23 less games to start out his career.
That isn't to say Smoak will ever be comparable to Thome, rather it's to reassure Mariners fans that another trade involving prospects has some hope and hasn't yet gone completely awry.
When, then, will Justin Smoak officially be a bust?
He's 25 years old and has the big league experience needed to begin making serious improvements in his game. If he can stay healthy this season he's on pace to hit 25 home runs (calculated based on 150 games played). That would give the Mariners their first 25 home run hitter since 2009 when they won 85 games.
Considering power was the main reason Smoak was acquired, 25 homers would be a huge confidence boost, for him as well as Seattle faithful.
Smoak isn't even in his prime yet. At 25, he still has a few years to develop before he'll have his best seasons. Granted, given the number of games he's already played in he should be putting up better numbers sooner rather than later.
So let's give Smoak until the end of this season. If his stats are too far below, say, .250, 25 and 80, maybe it's time to say he's a bust. How far below? .230, 17 and 68 simply isn't good enough. Anywhere in between the two stat lines and we give it one more year.
Justin Smoak is definitely capable of putting up those types of numbers barring injuries.
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