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Double Take on Smoak

Lloyd McClendon didn't say much about his opening day lineup at this point, other than the blatantly obvious (Cano and Seager) Justin Smoak. No, really, Justin Smoak is a lock at first base, even with Logan Morrison and Corey Hart around. McClendon expanded on his thoughts and suggested that Smoak will feature a different approach at the plate that makes him a doubles hitter instead of home run slugger. McClendon went as far to say that he envisions the potential for 40-45 doubles from Smoak to go with 20-25 home runs.

Smoak's career high for doubles is 24, mind you. He has hit more home runs than doubles each of the past two seasons. McClendon's vision for Smoak is quite different from the version that's stepped up to the plate. Smoak would have to change quite a bit.

But Justin Smoak might just have this change in him. And if he does, the Mariners have the first basement they thought they got from Texas in the first place.

McClendon's comments excite me mostly because I'm convinced that Justin Smoak never was meant to be the light tower slugger that the M's seemed to try to morph him into the past few seasons. Scouting reports from his high school days suggest that his lean build (at the time), plus the lack of classic raw power, made him a mildly unorthodox first base prospect. Granted, players change as they mature, and Smoak filled out, but even at the time of the Cliff Lee trade there were questions about his power potential.

Smoak's questionable power profile was also backed up by his minor league production as he rocketed through the Rangers system. In 723 minor league at-bats Smoak accumulated 32 doubles and 22 home runs - not the 40-25 split McClendon envisions, but a bit closer to that than the even split he's had the past few seasons.

I don't see 40 doubles for Smoak. McClendon seems a bit optimistic to me. However, the approach McClendon is preaching might fit Smoak's skills better than what he's been trying the past few seasons. A doubles approach might lead to more contact, and hard contact at that. It wouldn't hurt his plate discipline either, which is a strength of his. Maybe Smoak only hits 15 home runs, but if he gained some doubles and singles in the process he might be a better first baseman, and the best first baseman he can be.