Thursday, January 24, 2013
M's logjam a little clearer?
By Jason A. Churchill
Among the roster issues beset the Seattle Mariners includes the scenario at first base and designated hitter. The logjam includes Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jesus Montero. The presence of those four, by the way, likely means Michael Morse plays a lot of outfield, despite the poor value he brings to the table with the glove.
Montero appears set to be the primary catcher, a position he may share with pending addition Ronny Paulino, but will certainly see at some time at DH. Skipper Eric Wedge said at the team's spring training luncheon Wednesday that he envisions Smoak as the first baseman and Morales as the main designated hitter. Both players are capable defenders at first and each are switch hitters.
Morales is significantly better as a left-handed batter, however, often struggling from the other side. When a left-handed starter opposes Seattle, Wedge could use Montero as the DH and get Paulino, whose career numbers versus left-handed pitchers includes a .325 batting average and .465 slugging percentage, some time.
Either way it appears Smoak is going to get a shot to prove his most recent September surge is for real. There have been rumors that the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles have interest in Smoak, but the return may not be enticing for the M's.
One reason the club may believe in Smoak this time despite two previous strong Septembers that were each followed up by lengthy struggles the following season, is the work Smoak did last summer when he was shipped to Triple-A Tacoma and worked with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. He shortened his swing and stride and saw results come from that.
Sources tell me that Smoak has worked all offseason on his conditioning and has trimmed off 15-20 pounds, which could help the slugger cover the plate, particularly as a left-handed batter where he's struggled to handle pitches on the outer half and even down in the zone, an odd issue for a lefty stick.