Both of these first sackers have been viewed as potential middle of the order threats since the day they were drafted two spots apart in 2008, and both have started out well this year after disappointing beginnings to their big league careers. Is 2011 going to be a breakout year for either or both?
Drafted: 11th overall, 2008
2010 numbers:.279-9-30-33-0 in 50 games (AAA), .218-13-48-40-1 in 100 games (majors)
2011 numbers: .302-4-14-9-0 in 19 games
When you’re the centerpiece of a deal for Cliff Lee, you had better come through.
Smoak has been thought of as a .290, 25 homer threat since being drafted by the Rangers. He flew through the minors entering Triple-A in his second professional season, and all told only has 104 games at that level (he has just 119 games in the bigs). Clearly he’s still a very raw 24 years old. Last season he looked over-matched if you judge his effort by his .218 average, but hidden inside that effort was some positivity. Despite that hideous mark, Smoak smoked the ball (you didn’t think I would be able to avoid that reference did you?) to the tune of a 23.1 percent line drive rate. With a mark like that you’d figure his BABIP would be at least .310 or .320, yet somehow he ended the year with a .255 mark. Was he unlucky? On the surface it sure seemed that way. Flash forward to 2011 and his hit rate has gone way up to .326 in the early going. However, that total isn’t supported by a strong line drive rate as it has fallen to a terrible 14.0 percent. Odd to say the least. It’s also a concern that he has struck out in a quarter of his at-bats, but that seems to be the norm in the game anymore.
In terms of his skill set, Smoak is looking good. His 0.98 GB/FB is pretty much average, but the fly balls he hits end up in the seats frequently given his career 13.8 percent HR/F rate (the big league average is 9-10 percent). Safeco is a hard park to go deep in, but it seems like Smoak may have the ability, much like Adrian Gonzalez when he played at Petco, to still power the ball into the seats even if the park doesn’t help matters at all.
Bottom Line: Smoak appears likely to be a mixed league asset this year at the corner infield position. At the same time he doesn’t appear likely to break out this season. His average should be solid, as will his power production, but this guy isn’t Mark Teixeira – he’s much more likely to give you a Gaby Sanchez like line (.273-19-85-72-5 in 2010).
Drafted: 13th overall, 2008
2010 numbers: .301-18-61-64-1 in 95 games (AAA), .222-2-13-14-0 in 51 games (majors)
2011 numbers: .367-1-9-14-0 in 23 games
This man could always hit. However with about as bad a baseball ody as you could ever find, there have always been questions about his ability to play defense. Drafted as a third baseman by the Cardinals, he was moved to the Athletics, then the Blue Jays and finally to the Astros where is has settled in as a first baseman (honestly, his best “position” might be DH – though you never want to see that done with a guy who is this young).
Throughout his minor league career, Wallace has done as expected – he’s hit. In over 1,110 minor league at-bats Wallace has hit .304 with an OPS of .862 with an average of 21 homers per 500 at-bats. However, questions about his defense continued to dog him which is one of the reasons that he’s already on his fourth team.
As a major leaguer he’s only got 223 at-bats under his belt so it’s a bit tough to draw any real conclusions, but it’s safe to say that he has continued to be a solid hitter. However, his 29.1 percent K-rate bears watching, especially when pitchers learn how to get him out. How will he adjust? I’m also very concerned by his poor 0.25 BB/K ratio as there aren’t many players who can be uber successful with a rate like that. There’s also the little matter of that unsustainable .374 career BABIP mark.
Bottom Line: Wallace does a lot of things well, and there is little reason to think he’ll be anything other than a full-time player for the Astros. While he might hit for a better average than Smoak, he isn’t likely to match the power production of the Mariners first sacker. A valuable NL-only option, be careful not to overestimate his value in mixed leagues because of his hot start.
By Ray Flowers