Q&A with Rangers 1st Round Pick Justin Smoak

The Texas Rangers selected University of South Carolina slugger Justin Smoak with the 11th overall pick in the MLB Draft last Thursday. Lone Star Dugout was able to catch up with the first baseman for a Q&A session.

The Texas Rangers drafted South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak with the 11th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft last Thursday.

Smoak entered the draft as the fifth best prospect according to Scout.com draft expert Frankie Piliere.

But Smoak some draft day shakeups caused Smoak to drop to 11th overall, where the Rangers were more than happy to grab him.

During his three year career with the Gamecocks, Smoak batted .333 with 53 doubles and 62 home runs. He set career highs in 2008, his junior season, in almost every statistical category. The first baseman hit .383 with 23 home runs and 72 RBI. He also drew 57 walks while striking out just 28 times.

Lone Star Dugout was able to catch up with the Rangers' first round pick for a Q&A session.

Jason Cole: How does it feel to be the 11th overall pick of the Rangers?

Justin Smoak: It's just an honor for me. To be able to be drafted in the first round is an honor for me and to be able to go to the Rangers is just awesome. Growing up, you always dream of playing professional baseball and to be drafted by the Rangers is just awesome for me.

Cole: Going into the draft and leading up to it, did you have any idea that you would be falling to the Rangers?

Smoak: I kind of knew I might slide a little bit. You talk to teams in the top five picks and then you talk to teams in the second five picks. To be talking to those teams the whole time, then all of a sudden the day of the draft and the day before the draft, you're getting calls from teams that have the 11th, 12th, or 13th pick – you're kind of like ‘what's going on?' I kind of knew before the draft that I might slide a little bit, but it was great for me to go to the Rangers. It's an awesome organization and it is a place that I am really glad to be.

Cole: Did you talk to the Rangers much on draft day before they drafted you?

Smoak: No, not really. I talked to them the morning of the draft. I talked to them and one of the area scouts, Jim Cuthbert. I talked to him and he said they were interested. He said that if I slide to them, then I'm their guy. I'm very excited. It is something I couldn't wait for and I'm really excited about it.

Cole: How much have you talked with the Rangers since the draft?

Smoak: I went out to eat last night [Monday] with the area guy, Jim. I had dinner with him. We really didn't talk about much. It was just a congratulatory dinner and we talked about how it was in Texas when he was there on the day of the draft. I kind of talked about how it was at my house. It was just comforting for me.

Cole: Do you know when the negotiation process will begin?

Smoak: No, we haven't really talked about negotiations. We haven't really talked about the business side of things yet. I'm sure that it's going to come, but right now we're just going to wait it out and see what happens.

Cole: Tell me about your game at the plate. What is your approach at the plate? What are you trying to do when you're up there?

Smoak: Up there, I'm just trying to use the whole field. Everyone thinks of me as a big power guy – a home run hitter – but I would like to be known as a good hitter that can hit home runs. I just go up there trying to use the whole field and if the pitcher throws me a pitch away, I try to hit it the other way. If he throws me a pitch in, I try to pull it. It's something I've always done – trying to use the whole field.

Cole: Is your approach the same from both sides of the plate?

Smoak: Yeah, it is. It is. I have always tried to think opposite field gap if I'm hitting left-handed and right-center field if I'm hitting right-handed. It's just something I've always done.

Cole: How long have you been switch-hitting?

Smoak: I started doing it full-time the summer after my freshman year of high school. That is when I really started doing it full-time, but I practiced it a lot when I was 12, 13, or 14 years old. It's something I have always done.

Cole: Which side is your natural side?

Smoak: I'm naturally right-handed.

Cole: Do you feel any difference between your left and right sides at this point?

Smoak: No, I don't. If you would have asked me that a couple of years ago, I probably would have told you yeah. It just depends on the day. Some days I feel good left-handed and some days I feel good right-handed. It really just depends on the day now.

Cole: How much experience do you have with a wooden bat?

Smoak: I've got a lot of experience. Playing summer ball in high school, we used wooden bats in some tournaments. Going to the Cape Cod League after my freshman year in college and then going to Team USA this past summer, I've got a lot of experience with a wood bat. It's something I enjoy hitting with. I enjoy hitting with it. I wish college would use wooden bats. It's something I like a lot.

Cole: What are your thoughts on your performance with South Carolina this season?

Smoak: I thought I lived up to my expectations. I just tried to be a better hitter this year than I was last year. I felt like I was this year. Last year, I hit home runs but I hit like .315 or so. This year, I wanted to hit for a better average. And I wanted to not strike out as much and I did that.

Cole: When you were in a Super Regional with South Carolina two years ago, you were a part of five consecutive home runs. What was that like? Which one were you of the five?

Smoak: I was the second one actually. It was awesome. It's something that I don't think I'll ever be a part of again. It's something that was unbelievable. You see a guy hit one, then two, and you're like, ‘oh, back-to-back home runs.' Then you see another and you go, ‘now we've got three in a row.' Next thing you know you hit a fourth and a fifth one and you are like, ‘what's going on?' It was ridiculous. It was awesome being in the Super Regionals and being on ESPN for the first or second time, to have the five home runs in a row. It was awesome for me and the whole team.

Cole: Tell me a little bit about your game in the field. What do you feel your strengths are at first base?

Smoak: I think my footwork around the bag and digging balls out of the dirt. That's something I have always worked hard on and I have really tried to be a better defender than I've been. It's just always something that I've worked really hard on. That is what I like doing. The shortstop makes a great play in the hole and throws it in the dirt, you don't want to miss it and make it look like he didn't make a great play. It's something I've always put hard, hard work into.

Cole: During the draft, Peter Gammons said you were ambidextrous footed. What exactly did he mean by that?

Smoak: I guess that I use both feet. That's all I can think of. It is something I have tried to do. I try to square up on the bag. If the throw is to my right, I slide to my right. If the throw is to my left, I slide to my left. It's just something I learned in high school and something that has always stuck with me.

Cole: Are there any areas that you are really looking improve in the field as you move on to pro ball?

Smoak: I guess my range – moving from left to right and going to get more balls to my right than I have in the past. That is basically it. I feel like I can pick the ball pretty well and I've got good footwork around the bag, but moving from left to right is just something I need to work on I think.

Cole: What would you say has been the best moment of your baseball career so far?

Smoak: You'd have to put draft day at the top. You grow up playing baseball in your backyard with tennis balls and wiffle balls, wanting to be on TV playing in the big leagues. It's something you are always dreaming of and to actually see the first step of that come true this past weekend, it was awesome. My family and I are very happy with that.

Cole: I know you haven't talked do the Rangers about signing, but have they given you an indication of where you would be playing assuming you do eventually sign?

Smoak: No, they haven't. We haven't talked anything about it. That is something we haven't really talked much about and whenever we figure all that stuff out, we'll figure it out. But it is something that is just going to have to come down the road.

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