Entering his fifth major league season, Justin Smoak knows that he hasn’t accomplished everything that he set out to do when he was regarded as a top prospect. He also believes, however, that it’s not too late to turn on the jets and fulfill his potential.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years. I think I’ve had some good few weeks, a good month here and there, but I haven’t been the player that I know I can be and what a lot of people thought I was going to be, so it’s just about getting better and doing what I can day in and day out,” Smoak told MLBTR after the Blue Jays topped the Rays 3-0 in Dunedin. “I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve learned what works for me and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve just got to make it happen.”
Just four years ago, Smoak was the centerpiece of a trade package that sent ace Cliff Lee to the Rangers. Smoak didn’t blossom into the fearsome bopper Seattle hoped he’d become, and last October, the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers. Soon after, they declined Smoak’s $3.65MM option and non-tendered him, but he knew all along that he was still wanted in Toronto.
“Yeah, that was the first conversation I had with them. That was already a known. I knew that was going to happen, and I’m still arbitration-eligible, so I just tried to come to a deal and it ended up being what it is now,” Smoak said, referring to his one-year, $1MM pact.
Late last year, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet learned from Smoak’s agent that he turned down more money elsewhere to sign with the Blue Jays. Predictably, Smoak cited playing time as a reason for his decision, but not the only one.
“Probably more just the opportunity, you know, the opportunity to play and be in this lineup and be in the American League East and some hitter ballparks, that was probably the number one thing for me,” said the 28-year-old.
Toronto could provide a springboard for Smoak to make that money back and then some, but, above all else, he believes the change of scenery will help him get his career back on track.
“In Seattle, I had some good times and I learned a lot, but it’ll be a fresh start in Toronto and, hopefully, I’ll get things going here.”