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Has the Smoak Mirage in Seattle Ended?

Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners have finished up another groan filled campaigned, and while the northwest if set for one more ‘if this happens’ season, there were some positive developments in 2013. Not only is there cause for optimism thanks to emerging talents like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, but it looks like Justin Smoak may have finally turned the corner. Yes, after teasing Mariners fans periodically with his talents, like a mirage of water in the harshest of deserts, could “Big” Smoak be turning into the player Seattle always hoped for? The slugging first baseman, let’s remember, who was a key piece of the Cliff Lee trade?

By looking at Smoak’s final offensive stats for 2013, the 26 year-old had his best year to date. While he only hit .238 for the year, Smoak’s OBP was .324 and he recorded a slugging percentage of .412. Smoak also finished the year with 20 homers in 131 games, had a wOBA of .331 (according to Fangraphs) and an OPS of .746.

Sure these aren’t the kinds of numbers that will drop jaws throughout the baseball world, but they are the best Smoak’s recorded to date. In 2011, which was his rookie year and a better one than 2012, Smoak’s slash line was .234/.323/.396 with 15 homers in 123 games. The first baseman’s wOBA for that year was .317.

So, considering this time last year plenty of people were writing Smoak completely off, he’s put together a slightly above replacement campaign (0.4 WAR). It’s also worth noting that Smoak was sent down to Triple A earlier this year after a horrific start, and continued to improve as the season wore on. As the Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss relayed to My Northwest.com recently:

“Before there were many moving parts to his swing. Now we are seeing one complete motion,” Chambliss said. “It is a significant change.”

So, does any of this mean that the Mariners will get the projected 30 home run, All Star first baseman they traded for next season? Probably not. But if Smoak continues to improve somewhat, Seattle will finally have the productive threat at first base, which nearly any team hoping for a winning season requires.