Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Justin Smoak

      March 25, 2013 @ 17:30:16 PDT

Before I jump into Seattle Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak, I really quickly want to express my happiness over Scott Kazmir and Shelby Miller being named the fifth starters for the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.

Here's my blurb explaining why Kazmir ain't a bad dollar investment in American League-only leagues this year. Miller should be owned in every NL-only and keeper league, and he's even worth a late-round pick in mixed universes.

Seattle Mariners 1B Justin Smoak
Smoak clearing way for breakout?

Just like he did in 2012, Smoak is tempting fantasy players to take the leap with him in 2013 after he hit .338 with five home runs last September. His absurd spring output (.408/.434/.796) is making it even harder to ignore him now. I may sink or swim with Smoak this year, because I'm buying into it.

The 26-year-old switch hitter made significant changes to his hand placement and pre-swing preparation late last season, and he's carried it over this spring. Manager Eric Wedge has pointed this out and has translated his spring success along with the changes made. Wedge also notes here how Smoak is using the entire field instead of trying to pull everything.

He's looking surprisingly comfortable from the left side of the plate, too, where he struggled mightily last year (.208 average). He's shortened his swing and is making much more contact than he has before. Typically, more contact means a higher average, and fantasy owners will surely take that with Smoak after he hit .217 last year and .234 in 2011.

Smoak has the pop to hit 30 home runs over a full season, but many are skeptical because he hasn't been able to keep the strikeouts down. He also rarely takes free passes. If his mechanical changes and upgraded approach carry over into the regular season, however, we could see Smoak finally break out as a post-hype prospect.

For a player who has the potential to hit 30 jacks and drive in a healthy amount of runs in an improved Seattle lineup, Smoak is a steal with an average draft position (ADP) of 276.08, per Mock Draft Central. He's not even being taken in some mixed leagues. That's how much people are scared of him these days.

I'm willing to take the chance on a guy like Smoak. He's entering the prime of his career, and with some of these prospects, sometimes it takes some time for them to develop. We're very quick to write somebody off if they don't deliver instantly. You should never declare anyone dead for fantasy baseball purposes, because Smoak is clearly alive and well this spring. Let's hope he can deliver!

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About Keith Hernandez

Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.

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