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Justin Smoak's Big Home Run

Jason Miller

Justin Smoak spent the spring convincing people that he's primed for a full-season breakout. Smoak has been known as a tease, and those who succumbed in the past tried valiantly to resist.

It's just a mirage!

But his swing is noticeably different!

It's just a mirage!

But he's hitting the ball the other way!

It's just a mirage!

Another double! Look at that dinger!

It's just a mirage!

But what if it isn't?

I did my best to hold out, but a training camp's-worth of optimism began wearing me down. Maybe there is something different. Maybe Smoak will defy the odds and break through.

Whether Smoak would actually get his career back on track, I was just happy to approach his at bats with a sense of curiosity rather than one of dread. It injected some intrigue into April baseball.

Then Smoak started the season with just 5 singles through his first 37 plate appearances. He had a little more aesthetic appeal and his peripherals suggested that he might have deserved a few more hits, but all of that damned optimism quickly began to fade and I, once again, began kicking myself for being the slightest bit open to the idea that Smoak could turn a corner after nearly 1,500 trips to the plate.

But just as everyone -- finally, everyone -- was about to write off Smoak for good, he does what he does. On April 21, through 74 plate appearances, he was hitting .200/.297/.215. On May 21, through 164 plate appearances, he's hitting .252/.366/.367.

It's been interesting. Smoak has improved his plate discipline, tacked on a bunch of walks, and seems to be hitting the ball hard. But he wasn't hitting for the power his frame suggested he should have -- the power required to punch down a tree -- leaving us a way out. He didn't have the home runs but he also didn't have the oomph. He appeared weak. As Dave wrote a month ago: "This is, essentially, the inevitable conclusion that evidence forces us to draw: Justin Smoak is just not very strong. He’s never been very strong."

Smoak may have made himself into a semi-interesting player. Maybe even a player that will stick in the big leagues. Maybe even a player that will start in the big leagues. But he isn't a player worth building around on a team desperate for players to build around.

We could still be free.

Oh... that tease. During the 10th inning Monday afternoon, Justin Smoak did this:



According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, this ball's "true distance" was 422 feet, making it the fifth longest home run Smoak has hit at the big league level, and the longest home run he's hit outside of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. As impressive, the speed off the bat was measured at 113 MPH, the fastest of his big league career, fastest among all Mariners this year, and 30th on the league-wide list so far this season. This ball was crushed. The swing had a ferocity we're not used to seeing from Smoak.

We've seen Smoak in way over his head for most of the past three seasons. Right now it feels like we're seeing Smoak the prospect. We're seeing a kid with a big body, a sound approach at the plate, and -- on Monday -- the ability to "flash" 70 power. But this kid is 26, not 21, and odds are that he doesn't have another plateau leap in him.

But baseball isn't baseball if we know.

There is one side of me that would like Smoak to crash and burn so badly that the Mariners have no choice but to finally move on and try something different; change for the sake of change, but hopefully change for the better. But there is a small, teeny-tiny slice of me that cannot shake that stupid, unreasonable, nagging hope. Because baseball. Because Michael Saunders. Because Jose Bautista.

Maybe Smoak is finding something. Maybe Smoak revamped his approach and is now getting comfortable enough to start swinging with intent. Maybe Smoak's story is an outlier.

Or Smoak simply ran into a 92 MPH fastball just right. And we're just grasping at straws because it beats trying to convince ourselves that Rich Poythress is the answer or facing the disappointment that is Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero.

And we know that Smoak is a heartbreaker.

Probably. What a tease. Maybe. Almost certainly. I think.

Baseball is the best worst.