Smoak arrives in Seattle ready to give M's a spark
Rob Johnson has one memory from the Arizona fall League that sticks out about new Seattle teammate Justin Smoak: always laid back.
While Smoak looked half awake Saturday afternoon in the clubhouse at Safeco Field, the Mariners new first baseman who arrived in town only a few hours before making his Seattle debut was ready to start impressing his new club.
''To know that an organization is excited for you to be here and can't wait to get it going, it's always going to be exciting,'' Smoak said.
The 23-year-old first basemen was the centerpiece for Seattle of the six-player deal on Friday that sent 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and reliever Mark Lowe to Texas in exchange for Smoak and a trio of minor leaguers.
Even before Smoak was on a plane for the Pacific Northwest he had already been proclaimed the everyday first baseman by Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu. He was immediately in the Mariners lineup and hitting sixth on Saturday night against the New York Yankees, just shortly after meeting his new teammates.
''It's been kind of a roller-coaster ride, to get drafted by the Rangers and be there and in my second year with the Rangers and be in the big leagues with them was great. And now to be here is great,'' Smoak said. ''In this game you never know what might happen. They needed Cliff and they got him and I was the one that had to go and I'm excited to be here.''
Considered one of the top prospects in baseball, Smoak was hitting just .209 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 70 games with the Rangers. The Mariners are counting on those low totals being part of the normal adjustment to the majors and Smoak develops into more of what he showed in the minors. Last year at Double-A Frisco, Smoak hit .328 with six homers and 29 RBIs in just 50 games. Then Smoak joined Team USA in the in the International Baseball Federation World Cup and his stock skyrocketed. Smaok hit nine homers in just 14 games at the World Cup, was voted the tournament MVP and later was named the USA Baseball athlete of the year.
''He's got power,'' Johnson said. ''(But) he's still young and there is a lot of development he needs to do, we all need to do.''
Smoak admitted his toughest adjustment from the minors to being with the Rangers was getting the game to slow down and find a level of consistency. At one point in June, Smoak raised his batting average from .185 to .228 in just a couple of weeks, only to see it slide back recently.
''You feel good at times and the game is going slow and then you start trying to do too much and it starts catching back up with you,'' Smoak said. ''That's what I'm trying to do, find a way to stay consistent.''
As if Seattle needed any more validation of Smoak's potential, Wakamatsu received a text message from Texas' Michael Young simply stating, ''You've got a good one here.''
''I think his experience being over in Texas and being around some of those hitters like Young, or even the Vladimir Guerrero's have affected him,'' Wakamatsu said. ''That small sampling over there can be beneficial for him and hopefully he can take it over here.''