Smoak beginning to relax

SAN ANTONIO, TX - After a somewhat slow start to his first full season, Justin Smoak has returned to his slugging ways, notching multiple hits in four of his last five contests. Lone Star Dugout catches up with the 22-year-old top prospect.

As expected, first baseman Justin Smoak has experienced nothing but success on the field since the Texas Rangers selected him with the eleventh overall pick in last summer's MLB Draft.

The South Carolina product made his professional debut with Single-A Clinton late last season, batting .304 with three home runs in 56 at-bats.

In an effort to get him more experience, the Rangers assigned him to the Arizona Fall League over the offseason. The switch hitter got 51 at-bats while playing for both the Surprise Rafters and Peoria Javelinas, and he hit .353 with four doubles, two home runs, and ten walks.

Not long after his dominance of the Fall League, the Rangers invited him to Major League Spring Training, where he remained for most of camp. Smoak more than held his own against the big league competition, going 8-for-27 [.296] with three doubles and two homers.

Smoak opened his first full season with Double-A Frisco a few weeks ago, and he got off to a somewhat slow start. But the 22-year-old has been hot of late, as he's currently hitting .308 with three homers and 12 walks -- versus just nine strikeouts -- in 17 contests.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Smoak before a recent Frisco RoughRiders game in San Antonio.

Jason Cole: I want to start off by going back to your time in the Arizona Fall League. Talk about that experience and what your thoughts on it were.

Justin Smoak: It was a great experience coming from Low-A and then going through instructs and then being in the Fall League. I got to play with older guys, more experienced guys. Guys that had been through it. It was basically the Double-A and Triple-A All-Star guys. Playing against that talent, I didn't know how I'd do, especially with only 50 at-bats at Low-A. It was a great experience for me.

Cole: In what ways did that prepare you for a full season up here in Double-A?

Smoak: It prepared me in every way -- just seeing how they act on and off the field. Going through on the field, the game is a lot quicker and stuff like that. It really prepared me a lot.

Cole: You played with two different teams in the Fall League. Did it feel like you didn't really have a team because you were moving around?

Smoak: Yeah. When I was in Surprise, I was there for three weeks and played three games. I played every Wednesday. We had three or four first basemen and it was hard to get in there, so they put me in Peoria.

Cole: Were you first approached about switching teams or was that something that just kind of happened without them asking you?

Smoak: They wanted to get me on another team because they wanted me to play. I was glad they did that because I didn't want to be out there and sit there and watch every game. To be able to play every day, it made it go by a lot faster. At the same time, I gained a lot of experience.

Cole: You got quite a bit of time in big league camp this year and had some success. First off, what were you able to pick up by hanging around the big leaguers every day?

Smoak: Everything. Like I said, on the field and off the field. How their work ethics are. What they do to get ready for a game. How much time they put into it every day. I never thought it would be that much time into it, but it's a lot of time. You're there early and you don't leave until late. It's something they do that taught me a lot. If your locker is right next to Josh Hamilton, I guess that helps out a little bit. It was great.

Cole: How much did that motivate you, getting to spend so much time with the Major League club?

Smoak: It was awesome. To be there, I didn't know I was going to get invited to big league camp. They invited me during the offseason and I was really excited to be there. Just to be on the same field as those guys and to get to play -- I played in almost every game while I was up there. I would get in during the sixth or seventh inning.

To be able to get into all those games, to have some good at-bats and have some bad at-bats. I was able to see what it was like. Being there made me feel like one day I'll be capable of being there.

Cole: Talk about your first couple of weeks here in Frisco. How do you feel you've been playing?

Smoak: Well I started off real slow. I didn't think I would, because coming out of Spring Training, I felt really good. Then I got three or four days off before the season started and it just went away. I had to find it again.

The first couple of weeks were just slow. I was overly aggressive with pitches. I kind of got myself out instead of letting the game come to me. That's what I just told myself -- go out and play and try not to be somebody you're not. It has been working the last couple of games.

Cole: What has been the key to turning that around? Has it been just sticking with your normal routine and plan?

Smoak: Yeah -- just being myself. Early on, I was trying to be somebody I'm not. I was trying to home runs or trying to do this and that. That's something you can't do at this level. You've just got to see the ball and hit the ball. I've always been a see-the-ball, hit-the-ball type of guy. I think it has been working okay.

Cole: Brant Brown is the new hitting coach here in Frisco. What have you been focusing on with him?

Smoak: With him, it's just being relaxed. Sometimes I get overly aggressive. I try to do too much like I said. With him, it's just being relaxed and letting your hands do the work. That is basically it. There's nothing really physical with me, it's just about staying relaxed.

Cole: What are you working on defensively since coming to Frisco?

Smoak: Basically just staying down on balls, going to get balls, reading balls, and stuff like that. First base is one of those things where you've got to try to catch every ball that comes to you. It has worked out so far. I've just got to pick every ball I could possibly pick.

Cole: Now that you've gotten some time with Clinton last season and you are with Frisco this year, have you run into anything that has surprised you about professional ball?

Smoak: Not really. It has been everything I thought it would be. It's baseball. It's something I've played my whole life and it is something that I love to do. I just go out and have fun with it.

Cole: What is it like to be playing in Frisco -- which is basically a Major League market -- and being so close to the Rangers?

Smoak: It's nice. It's really nice. Frisco is a great place to be. It's a great area and there are great fans there. To be that close to the big league club, it's nice because you play your game and there is always something in the clubhouse on TV afterwards showing how they did. Being able to be with those guys in Spring Training, you want everybody to do well, so you want to see how those guys are doing. It has really been great.


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