The Interview Vault: Justin Smoak
While everyone around baseball watches shockingly as Cliff Lee dons a Philadelphia Phillies uniform at a press conference sometime in the next few days, I’m focusing in on the centerpiece of the deal that sent the left-hander to the Texas Rangers last July 9. He just happens to be a former LumberKing and is the feature of this week’s edition of “The Interview Vault”.
Switch-hitting first-baseman Justin Smoak was one of the four former Clinton players dealt by the Rangers in exchange for Lee and Mark Lowe prior to last year’s trade deadline. Once the undoubted future of the middle of the Texas lineup, Smoak was deemed expendable to help the Rangers turn the corner in the immediate. Now, the 2008 first-round pick (11th overall) finds himself as the cornerstone of Jack Zduriencik’s rebuilding project in Seattle.
Smoak was fresh off the fishing boat when he arrived in Clinton in August of 2008, rested from a drawn-out signing process that wouldn’t end until 15 minutes before the MLB deadline. Anxious to play baseball again for the first time since he left the University of South Carolina, he’d still have to wait a day before making his professional debut in Peoria on August 18.
The featured interview today took place between myself and Smoak prior to that first action and was his first minor league interview. We talk about his hectic first 48 hours, fitting in with the likes of fellow first-baseman Mitch Moreland (who hit a pair of home runs in the previous game vs. the Chiefs), getting ready to hit in the 5-spot in manager Mike Micucci’s order, his thoughts on the first round selection by the Rangers and more.
Not long after the interview, Smoak would take the diamond for the first time as a pro, going 1-for-3 with a double off the right-center wall for his first pro hit. He’d go on to register at least one hit in 13 of his 14 games as a LumberKing, hitting .304 with three doubles, three home runs and six RBI.
Since ’08, he’s accomplished a lot quickly. Smoak ascended to the Major Leagues in just his second full season in 2010, making his big-league debut for the Rangers on April 23 vs. Detroit. He’d hit .209 with eight homers and 34 RBI for Texas before being packaged for Lee, and would finish out the year bouncing between Seattle (.239, 5 HR, 14 RBI) and triple-A Tacoma (.271, 7 HR, 25 RBI). Smoak teamed up with the red-hot Dustin Ackley to bring a PCL championship home to the Rainiers, winning the PCL’s Offensive Player of the Postseason award (.423, HR, 6 RBI) in the process.
With the likes of Ackley, Rich Poythress and Nick Franklin coming up alongside him, the future for Smoak should be very bright in the middle of the Mariners’ order.