Smoak with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015
|Toronto Blue Jays – No. 13|
December 5, 1986 |
Goose Creek, South Carolina
|April 23, 2010, for the Texas Rangers|
(through 2015 season)
|Runs batted in||293|
Justin Kyle Smoak (born December 5, 1986) is an American professional baseball first baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball (MLB). He made his debut with the Texas Rangers in 2010, and was traded to the Seattle Mariners during the 2010 season. Prior to his professional career, Smoak played baseball for Stratford High School and the University of South Carolina.
High school career
Smoak graduated from Stratford High School in 2005. Smoak played four years of varsity high school baseball under coach John Chalus. It wasn't until his junior year in high school that scouts began to notice his talent because they were originally scouting his teammate and friend, Matt Wieters. However, Smoak soon made his presence known among scouts. He was named by ABCA, Baseball America, and Collegiate Baseball as a 2005 high school All-American. He was also one of 36 high school players in the nation to play in the 2005 high school All-American baseball game, named South Carolina AAAA Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005, named co-Mr. Baseball for 2005 in South Carolina (alongside Gamecock teammate Reese Havens), made the 2004 and 2005 South Carolina AAAA All-State team, and a member of the 2005 South Carolina AAAA state championship team while with the Stratford Knights. He was initially drafted by the Oakland Athletics as a sixteenth-round pick in 2005 upon graduation, but instead attended the University of South Carolina.
Smoak went on to play college baseball for the South Carolina Gamecocks. In his three years playing for South Carolina, Smoak consistently put up big numbers. After batting .303 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI, Smoak earned Freshman All-American honors. He followed up with a .315 batting average, 22 home runs, and 72 RBI in his sophomore year, good enough to be tabbed as a third-team All-American. For his junior year, Smoak batted .383, with 23 home runs and 72 RBI. Smoak is South Carolina's all-time home run king with 62, breaking Hank Small's record of 48, which stood for over 30 years. Smoak is also South Carolina's career leader in RBIs and walks.
Cape Cod League and Team USA stints
|Competitor for United States|
|Baseball World Cup|
|2009 Nettuno||National team|
|Pan American Games|
|2007 Rio de Janeiro||National team|
In the summer of 2006, Smoak played for the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He led all hitters with 11 home runs, a .565 slugging percentage, and 21 extra-base hits, en route to the MVP award.
In the summer of 2007, Smoak was a representative for Team USA. During the 2007 Pan American Games, Smoak struggled, hitting .190 for the tournament. He won a silver medal there, when his team lost to Cuba in the finals. Later, he competed with Team USA again in the 2007 World Port Tournament. However, he didn't fare much better, as he finished with a .208 average, although he did lead the tournament with three doubles. In all, Smoak hit .223 and had a .380 slugging percentage for Team USA over the summer.
In 2009, Smoak again represented his country in the IBAF Baseball World Cup. Smoak hit nine home runs and drove in 22 runs, and was named to the 2009 IBAF World Cup All-Tournament Team along with fellow Team USA players Terry Tiffee and Jon Weber. He was also named the 2009 Baseball World Cup's Most Valuable Player. He won the USA Baseball Richard W. "Dick" Case Player of the Year Award in 2009.
In November 2010, Justin married his high school sweetheart, Kristin Bevacqua. They have one child, a daughter.
In April 2011, Smoak's father, with whom he had been very close, died of cancer.
Smoak was generally considered one of the top five players in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, but his demands for a high-dollar contract caused several teams to pass on him. The Texas Rangers selected Smoak with the eleventh overall pick, leading USA Today to comment that "getting Smoak at No. 11 may be the best value pick of the first round."
Smoak was often touted by scouts as one of the best defensive first basemen in the 2008 draft. Some scouts compared Smoak to fellow switch hitters Mark Teixeira and Chipper Jones. Baseball America wrote that, as a first baseman, Smoak had "Gold Glove-caliber actions and soft hands", as well as "advanced footwork and instincts at first base", though they wrote that he had merely adequate arm strength. Nonetheless, several scouting reports wrote that Smoak's biggest strength was his ability to hit for both power and average on both sides of the plate.
Smoak did not sign a professional contract until fifteen minutes before MLB's deadline for teams to sign draft picks. The Rangers gave Smoak a $3.5 million signing bonus and assigned him to one of their Class-A affiliates, the Clinton Lumberkings.
Smoak began play in the 2009 season for the Class AA Frisco RoughRiders. He was promoted on July 8, 2009 to the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks. Smoak entered 2010 ranked among the best prospects in baseball.
Smoak was called up by the Rangers on April 22 and made his Major League debut the following evening in a game against the Detroit Tigers.  He recorded his first hit on April 26, 2010 against the Tigers. Smoak set a franchise record by drawing at least one walk in each of his first 4 games. Smoak got his first Major League home run against the White Sox on April 29 off Gavin Floyd and hit his first home run while batting right-handed on May 3, against Oakland off Jerry Blevins.
On June 13, 2010, playing in Milwaukee, Smoak became the first player in Rangers history to strike out five times in a nine-inning game.
On July 9, Smoak was traded to the Seattle Mariners with prospects Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe. Smoak was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma on July 31, 2010. He returned to the Mariners on September 18 and batted .340 with three home runs in the final 14 games of his rookie season. Former Seattle Sonics announcer Kevin Calabro gave him the nickname "The Freak From Goose Creek".
On July 23, 2012 Smoak was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, after his batting averaged dropped down to .189 in the middle of a 1 for 25 slump. A few weeks later he was brought back up to the Mariners due to an injury to first basemen Mike Carp.
Toronto Blue Jays
On October 28, 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays claimed Smoak off of waivers. On December 2, 2014, Smoak was non-tendered by the Blue Jays, making him a free agent. One day later, they re-signed him to a one-year, $1 million contract. He made his debut with Toronto on Opening Day, coming on as a defensive replacement for Edwin Encarnación. On April 22, 2015, Smoak set the all-time record for most plate appearances without hitting a triple to open a career. He would extend the record to 2,317 plate appearances before hitting his first career triple on June 12, 2015, against the Boston Red Sox. In a game at Yankee Stadium on August 8, 2015, Smoak hit his first career grand slam, and also became the first Blue Jay to hit a grand slam against the Yankees at their home field. He split time at first base for most of the 2015 season with Chris Colabello. In 132 appearances, Smoak batted .226 with 18 home runs and a career-high 59 RBI.
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