It's been a rough year for the Seattle Mariners, but an even tougher one for Justin Smoak.
Since coming over to the Mariners a little over a year ago as the key piece of the Cliff Lee trade, Smoak has faced quite a bit, both on and off the field. Following a rocky debut in Seattle last year, he seemed poised to take over the starting job at first base in 2011 and quietly began the season as one of the M's better hitters.
Still, I was a bit skeptical. He struck out too much, and at times looked lost, but I didn't know...his dad was dying.
After losing his mentor and confidant, Smoak went on a tear in the days and weeks that followed that made every M's fan start to believe we finally had not only a first baseman and cleanup hitter, but an All-Star. Then, just as suddenly, the magic was gone. Each day his average slowly dripped and dropped like water from a faucet. Each day I kept waiting for him to snap out of it with a double or a homer.
What impressed me was that he never really complained or made excuses, even when the story about his thumb started to surface during the team's losing streak.
Finally, after taking a week to help heal his thumb, with the hopes of putting the past few weeks behind him and finishing the season strong, he breaks his nose on what teammate Kyle Seager called, "an absolutely wicked hop."
It's got to test a young man's faith and sanity during a year that keeps going sideways.
I'm not here to make excuses for the guy, as I do feel he needs to further prove himself, but I can certainly sympathize. It's got to be hard enough to find yourself struggling on the field, but simply maddening to be denied the chance to get out there, especially after a fluke injury.
Will he develop into a legitimate clean-up hitter? Not entirely sure at the moment, but I do see him as the M's first baseman for the next decade. As we saw during the month of May, he's a talented ballplayer—with adequate protection in the lineup I can see him settling in to a .270 / 20 / 90 yearly clip.
Here's hoping he can get back soon, but most importantly finish the year on a positive note. It might not happen right away, or even this season, yet I do believe that he will turn the corner some point soon.
Take care of yourself Justin, we'll be waiting for you when you're ready.