Justin Smoak and 5 Post-Hype Sleepers Busting out
Many MLB players ascend through the minors and receive labels such as “The Next Big Thing” and some are even deemed the saviors of franchises.
Unfortunately, those designations don’t always pan out (see: Dwight Gooden).
But for some, it just takes a few years to become accustomed to the major leagues. It becomes more evident that baseball is a skill, and raw talent can only take a player so far.
Numerous players this year are currently enjoying solid seasons, even after the hype surrounding them may have diminished.
Here are five players who are finally living up to the hype.
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The M’s were high on Smoak, who was a highly-touted prospect when he came to Seattle. He was ranked the No. 17 prospect in the minors during 2010, according to Baseball Prospectus.
The Mariners even decided against trading Lee for Jesus Montero, deciding that Smoak would be a better option.
After hitting only .234 last season with 15 home runs and 55 RBI, Seattle fans began to give up hope that Smoak would ever turn into an everyday switch-hitting power bat.
It seems like Smoak has woken up as of late.
After starting off this season much like last year, Smoak has come alive. He’s batting .342 over his last 10 games and has driven in 12 runs.
He has already hit 10 home runs this year, and five of those have come in the last 10 games.
If he can keep up his current pace, Smoak would finish the year with 29 home runs and around 85 RBI.
Those aren’t MVP-caliber numbers, but it’s good to see Smoak finally enjoying some success in the MLB.
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After the Atlanta Braves selected him in the first round of the 2003 MLB draft, Saltalamacchia was regarded as the next great catcher.
According to Baseball America, an anonymous scout compared Saltalamacchia to Jason Varitek, in regards to his size and power.
In 2006, he was the No. 18 prospect in the MLB and was primed to make an impact on a major league roster.
Saltalamacchia subbed in for Bryan McCann during the 2007 season and performed admirably for the Braves, batting a respectable .284 with four home runs.
Following an unsuccessful stint with the Rangers, including breaking the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout with 28, Saltalamacchia found refuge at Fenway Park.
After having another forgettable 2011 campaign, Saltalamacchia has found his groove this season. He is currently batting .265, with 10 dingers and 25 RBI.
With the Red Sox sitting at last in the NL East, Boston fans need something to rally around.
If Saltalamacchia can keep improving and find the stroke that drew him comparisons to the last great Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, Boston fans will be in for an exciting finish.
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After five years in pinstripes, the Yankees shipped Cabrera to Atlanta, where he struggled mightily.
Cabrera finished the season in Atlanta batting .255 with four home runs, 42 RBI and 64 strikeouts. According to the Kansas City Star, Cabrera blamed his dismal season on his weight.
Well the weight issues are a thing of the past for Cabrera, who is looking slim and sleek in his Giants uniform.
Cabrera is enjoying a career year for the Giants, as he leads the MLB with a .371 batting average.
Cabrera has been hot all season long, as he has batted .439 in his last 10 games and collected 51 hits in the month of May alone.
With the Giants only three games out of first in the NL West, they will need Cabrera to continue his hot play if they want to make the postseason.
The Mariners drafted Morrow fifth overall in the 2006 MLB Draft, ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer.
Seattle fans were optimistic Morrow would become the next great right-hander after he was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Mariners organization and the No. 87 overall prospect after the 2006 season by Baseball America.
However, Mariners fans quickly harnessed the harsh reality that Morrow would not live up to his potential while wearing a Seattle uniform.
Seattle mostly used Morrow as a reliever rather than a starter and his statistics suffered. In 2009, Morrow went 2-4 in 10 starts, finishing with a 4.39 ERA in 69.2 innings pitched.
The Mariners traded Morrow after the 2009 campaign to the Blue Jays for closer Brandon League. In Toronto, Morrow got the opportunity to be a full-time starter once again.
This year, he has flourished into the flame-throwing right-hander that intrigued the M’s when they drafted him.
He is currently 6-3 this season with a 3.28 ERA, which ranks 12th in the AL. He also has 62 strikeouts.
Morrow has been able to locate his pitches this year and with more control over his repertoire (22 walks this season), he is primed to maintain his hot start.
If Morrow can blossom into a reliable ace, the Blue Jays will have a solid 1-2 punch with him and Ricky Romero.
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No post-hype breakout list would be complete without Hamilton.
In 90 games with the Reds, Hamilton performed magnificently, batting .292 with 19 home runs.
Nonetheless, those numbers are not what you would expect from a player as highly regarded as Hamilton.
After he was traded to the Rangers, Hamilton seemingly re-invented himself and became an MVP-caliber player.
Hamilton went from out of baseball in 2006 to winning the AL MVP in 2010.
His comeback has been nothing short of miraculous, and this year is no different.
Hamilton is currently second in the AL in batting average (.354), first in home runs (21) and first in RBI (57).
With the pace he is currently on, he could make history by capturing the AL Triple Crown for the first time since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.
Hamilton’s story proves that raw talent can only take you so far in professional baseball.
But with the right work ethic, anything is possible.