Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Next season is of the make-or-break variety for Justin Smoak. The former 11th overall pick has yet to develop into the hitter he was once touted to be and has been relegated to the minor leagues for parts of each of the last two seasons.
While the minor league stints have helped to improve Smoak's numbers on each occasion, Seattle's starting first baseman can't be making road trips to Tacoma, Wash., every summer to get his game right.
That being said, Smoak is getting better.
Last season he posted career highs in runs, hits, homers, walks, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OPS. Encouraging, yes. But those career highs are still nothing to write home about. Smoak also struck out more last year than in any other season and drove in just 50 runs despite hitting 20 long balls.
An unfortunate but realistic expectation for Smoak is to further his progress slowly. Mariners fans hope that he doesn't suddenly hit .280 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI, only to be re-signed by GM Jack Zduriencik for twice what he's worth and enter a downward spiral until he's making fat stacks in the final years of his contract while riding the pine or pinch hitting for the New York Yankees. Also known as the downfall of Richie Sexson.