Mariners manager Eric Wedge is convinced that Justin Smoak’s September surge is not just a mirage, or a tease.
Smoak hit .338 in September with five homers. He had a .414 on-base percentage and .584 slugging percentage. That’s a .998 OPS — star-quality stats. But it was just one month, and Smoak has had hot stretches before, only to be followed by long droughts.
“I think it’s the most real it’s ever been in my time here,” Wedge said. “Just because of the fundamental changes, and the consistency with which he’s been able to sustain that swing, that approach, that mindset. The way he’s taking pitches, the way the ball’s coming off his bat from both sides of the plate. I’m as encouraged as I’ve ever been with him.”
Does that change the Mariners’ future plans for Smoak? Whether or not to commit to him at first base in 2013 is one of the biggest questions they will face.
“I’m probably the last person to talk to about that, because I’ve always felt so strongly about him,” Wedge said. “Because of the work ethic; he has championship character about him. He’s a good teammate. I think he’s tough. You just put all those things together, you have to believe. You trust in the process of baseball that’s it’s going to come.
“The one thing I think it’s always tough for people understand, whether you’re in the game or out of the game, it doesn’t always come on our timetable. Usually, it never does. Some of them pick it up quicker, and some of them it takes a little longer to find it.
To those who would say that Smoak has had enough time (1,247 career at-bats) to show what he can do, Wedge said, “That’ s not true though. Back in the day and I still feel like, you don’t know what kind of big leaguer you have until you’ve been up here for 2 1/s or three years. It takes that period of time for you to actually settle in.
“You look at all the great players – and there’s a few that get it right away, a few I could talk about on one hand that are first-ball Hall of Famer guys. But more times than not and there’s plenty of examples of it on other teams, it just takes time because it’s the big leagues and the highest level in the world. It’s just not that easy. That’s why patience is rewarded more so in this game than any other sport. Because of the number of games you play and number of at-bats you have or innings you play and just the level of difficulty.
“He’s in pretty good shape. You talk about Michael Saunders last year at this time — which we weren’t — and you talk about Michael Saudners right now, that’s a great example internally. But if you look throughout the game and say, ‘This guy is a pretty good player,’ well, look at their first year or second year. What did they do in their first 1,000 at-bats? Maybe it’s their first two years or 2 ½ years, they’re not the same guy you’re seeing right now. That’s why you’ve got to trust your ability to evaluate and give them the time to do that.”