Keith Law expects Mariners’ Justin Smoak to improve

Feb 10, 2012, 6:13 PM | Updated: 6:50 pm

By Brady Henderson

Justin Smoak hasn’t done much in his brief MLB career to validate his one-time standing as one of most highly regarded prospects in baseball.

Since coming to the Mariners from Texas in a July 2010 trade, Smoak has hit .235 with 20 home runs and a .714 OPS while struggling to stay healthy.

Smoak-statsKeith Law, a former MLB executive who is now an analyst for ESPN, told “Brock and Salk” on Friday that he is still a believer.

“I don’t think you really saw the real Justin Smoak,” Law said of Smoak’s 2011 season. “He got off to a great start, then his father passed away suddenly, and then the injuries started mounting. I don’t think he was really ever healthy.”

As Law mentioned, Smoak began last season on fire, hitting .303 with four home runs, 15 RBIs and a .989 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first 20 games. That, combined with a strong finish to the 2010 season, gave reason to believe that Smoak was about to break out.

To say that he couldn’t catch a break after that would be an understatement. His father passed away in April from lung cancer, then he missed time with a groin strain, a left thumb injury and a broken nose that was the result of a ground ball that hit him in the face.

Smoak finished the season with a .234 average and 15 home runs, only three of which came in the second half of the season.

Law thinks Smoak deserves a pass for his 2011 season, especially considering the thumb injury.

“If you ask any hitter, particularly a power hitter, the hand injury is one they fear because even when it’s technically healed [and] you’re cleared by the trainers to get back out into the cages, if you can’t really grip the bat with your typical strength you’re going to find it very hard to drive the ball,” Law said. “You may still be able to center up the baseball, but to actually drive it is extremely difficult with hand, thumb, wrist injuries, and they take a very long time to heal.”

“So I kind of want to put that Smoak season behind us. Let’s get a full, healthy, 500 at bats out of him this year. If he doesn’t perform again I will stand up and say I was wrong about this kid, but I really don’t think I am.”

Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson

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