29 May 2008

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Justin Smoak)

Introducing Justin Smoak

If you ask most Baltimore Orioles fans whether they’d like to add a certain middle-of-the-order, switch-hitting, solid-defensive first baseman this offseason, more often than not your inquiry will be met with a resounding “Yes!” Interestingly enough, Baltimore may be able to add two of them in a six-month span, the second of whom should cost less than 4% of what Teixeira will likely be demanding. Justin Smoak (1b, University of South Carolina) entered the season as one of the top collegiate bats in this years class and a likely top 10 pick. After a slow start, which compounded some fears that arose after a rough summer with Team USA, Smoak broke out in a big way, finishing the season with a line of .389/.509/.758, and 20 HR (including 6 HR and 19 RBI in a nine-day span between 4/15 and 4/23). The switch-hitting slugger is more than capable in the field and has established himself as the best all-around 1b in the draft. He’s a semi-finalist for both the Golden Spikes Award (USA Baseball) and the Dick Howser trophy, and earned first-team All-SEC honors in his junior year. Let’s take a closer look and try to figure out if the Orioles should target Smoak at 1:4.

The Numbers

Statistic (National Rank out of 500 Ranked)
Games/Games Started – 59/59
At Bats – 220
Hits – 83 (75)
Doubles – 18 (111)
Triples – 0 (not ranked)
Homeruns – 21 (9)
Runs Batted In – 66 (55)
Batting Average – .377 (89)
On-Base Percentage – .502 (26)
Slugging – .745 (17) Total Bases – 164 (11)
Walks – 55 (7)
Strikeouts – 27 (464th toughest to strikeout -- 1 SO/8.1 AB)

Like Gordon Beckham, Smoak’s calling card is his power, with almost half of his hits going for extra bases. He has shown an impressive and discriminate eye at the plate, posting a 27/55 strikeout-to-walk ratio and finishing in the top 10 nationally in bases on balls. While the overall statistical package looks impressive, some have shown concerns with Smoak’s streaky-tendencies.

As mentioned above, Smoak struggled mightily with Team USA this past summer, posting an uninspired line of .223/.291/.380 while appearing in all 35 games and starting in 32 of them. As with the start of this college season, consistency was the issue rather than the level of competition, as in his 10 best games Smoak raked to the tune of .436 AVG / .872 SLG. Coupled with the fact that he impressed in the Cape after his freshman year (11 home runs in 39 games), any worries about his ability to hit with wood seem unwarranted. Over the course of any given season Smoak should be a safe bet to perform at the plate.

The Frame

Smoak measures in at 6’4” and 215 pounds and has used every bit of the size and power along the way to capturing South Carolina’s career HR and RBI record (60 and 200, respectively). While there isn’t a ton of room for growth, he shouldn’t need much. Smoak has a ML body right now and will likely add a couple pounds of muscle as his professional career progresses. His size profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat.

Scouting: Film

We will evaluate Smoak’s left-handed swing and right-handed swing simultaneously. Full slow-motion videos of Smoak's left-handed and right-handed swings can be found at Baseball-Intellect -- snap shots are below:

Load – From the both sides, Smoak’s back elbow is elevated a bit, pointing the top of the bat towards the pitcher. From the left, this turns out to be less problematic than it is for Beckham because of Smoak’s terrific stride (as we will see shortly). From the right, it is corrected by a hitch in his stride (which may or may not prove problematic). He maintains a solid 60/40 weight distribution and his hands are locked close to the shoulder, creating good power potential. His stance varies, with a tight stance from the right and a wider stance from the left, giving him a more up-and-down swing from the right and a slightly more compact swing from the left.

Stride – From the left side, Smoak utilizes a smooth weight transfer and locks his hands in prime position just at the height and slightly behind his back shoulder. He stays closed in the hips through a stride of moderate length and little elevation allowing for maximum power by the time he starts his swing. Little energy is lost and his swing is shortened by locking his hands into position relative to his shoulder (if you remember, Gordon Beckham locked his hands into a position in space, which lead to his body getting ahead of the hands and therefore lengthening his swing). Smoak also keeps his elbow locked in position. While this is not ideal, he is not lengthening his swing by raising it during the stride. Since his stay locked to the body, his swing should be nice and quick to the ball.

From the right side, Smoak’s stride is a little shorter, but the weight transfer, closed hips and hands locked to the shoulder are all replicated. There is a red flag, however, in the form of a hitch. As he starts his stride, Smoak dips his hands a couple of inches and elevates his knee slightly as he steps forward. His hands return to slot by the time his swing starts (with his elbow lowered as the swing starts). This may not be a huge problem in the future, depending on how consistently he returns his hands to the proper position in which they start. Any inconsistencies in the location of his hands will likely lead to periodic inconsistencies in his swing. I do not see enough of Smoak to know whether this is an issue, but it would be interesting to look as his tape from Team USA and take note of this potential issue.

Swing – From the left, Smoak has a smooth swing with a slight uppercut. He leads well with his hips, elbow and the knob of the bat, generating good bat speed and driving the barrel on a fairly short line to the ball. From the right, his hands drag ever-so-slightly, lengthening his swing. This is likely a result of the hands still returning from the hitch. The swing is equally fluid from the right, though a little longer. There is still a great amount of power generated as his swing flows from hips to elbow to knob of the bat to the barrel.

Contact – He squares up on the ball very well from both sides. From the right he tenses a bit in the lower half through his core at contact, but loosens almost immediately so as not to affect his follow-through. Balance from both sides is very good, allowing Smoak to use his size and clean swing to drive the ball effectively to all fields.

Follow-Through – From both sides, Smoak is free and easy with his follow-through. Despite his size and the force in his swing, he maintains excellent balance as he concludes. This is a positive sign in that 1) his swing is not likely to get away from him, and 2) he is generating great power without sacrificing control over his swing.

Swing Grade – A- (left side); B+ (right side) – The hitch on the right is a little worrisome, but all-in-all there is a lot to be excited about with Smoak’s swing. He looks clean and efficient from load to follow-through, and there are few causes for concern.

Smoak is a fine athlete – sure-handed in the field and comfortable defensively. He has the footwork and hands to excel as a Major League first baseman, and should have no trouble slotting in as one of the better defensive 3’s around in any given league. He probably doesn’t have the mobility to man an OF corner, which limits his “tool” grade a bit. He has an adequate arm.

Fielding Grade – B+

Is Smoak Worthy of 1:4?

Smoak is the total package when it comes to draftee first basemen. A switch hitter that generates power to all fields and both sides of the plate, he profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat and is a clean and confident player in the field. While the inconsistencies of the summer and, to an extent, his junior year at South Carolina caused his stock to drop a bit early on, there is no doubt he is a top 10 talent with a major league tool set. Baltimore should give Smoak serious consideration at 1:4.

Prospect Grade – B+
Suggested Draft Slot – 4 to 8
1:4 Recommendation – Strongly Consider Drafting
Current Draft Board – 1. Smoak / 2. G. Beckham

Draft Preview Schedule

5/30pm Buster Posey (C) Florida State University

5/31am Pedro Alvarez (3b) Vanderbilt University

5/31pm Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)

6/1am Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego

6/1pm Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri

6/2 Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3

6/3 Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5

6/4 Draft Primer and Final War-Room Review

6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

Please feel free to contact us with any thoughts our questions -- we'd love to hear from you.

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