Smoak looking for harder contact

First baseman Justin Smoak hasn't exactly lit the world on fire since his promotion to Triple-A, but he hasn't been a complete disaster either. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 22-year-old about his mid-season injury and his development with Oklahoma City.

The Texas Rangers' minor league system is widely regarded as the most talented in all of baseball, and Justin Smoak is undoubtedly the organization's top position prospect.

The first baseman, who was the Rangers' first-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, opened the season with Double-A Frisco, batting .328 with six home runs and 39 walks in 50 contests.

Smoak missed some time in Frisco due to an injury, causing him to spend a few weeks rehabbing in Arizona. But not long after returning, the Rangers promoted the 22-year-old switch-hitter to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Since joining the RedHawks, Smoak has been inconsistent. He has a .208 batting average through 34 games, hitting six doubles and three home runs. Over his last ten contests, Smoak has more walks [8] than strikeouts [6], but he is also just 6-for-36 during that span.

Most scouts and Rangers officials are not worried about Smoak's Triple-A struggles. He is still young for the league and this is his first full professional season.

The University of South Carolina product is getting accustomed to seeing a steady diet of offspeed pitches in the Pacific Coast League. Although Smoak's Double-A numbers were dominant, he struggled with breaking balls and changeups at times, and he has not seen many fastballs at the Triple-A level.

Because Smoak is still relatively inexperienced, and he's had little trouble making the necessary adjustments in the past, there isn't much reason to worry about Smoak just yet.

Lone Star Dugout recently spoke with the first baseman about his injury and his joining the RedHawks.

Jason Cole: Go back to when you were promoted up to Triple-A. Who told you, how did they tell you, and what went through your mind at that point?

Justin Smoak: [Mike] Micucci told me. We were in Springfield. I was out for a month with the oblique. I was in Frisco for six or seven games. Maybe eight, I can't really remember.

I was playing—just trying to get back in the swing of things—and he called me in after a game in Springfield and said, ‘You're going to Triple-A.' I wasn't shocked, but I was surprised. Now I'm excited and glad to be here.

Cole: Early in the year, the Rangers had kind of been hinting that they would promote you right around the Double-A All-Star break. Were you kind of expecting to see it even though you were coming off injury?

Smoak: If I wouldn't have gotten hurt, I would've expected it a little bit. But since I got hurt, I didn't know what was going to happen then. Now that I'm here, I've gotta start playing.

Cole: Tell me about that injury. Was that something that had been bothering you for awhile before you went on the DL?

Smoak: No. I've never really been hurt before. Playing ball growing up, I've never been hurt. I check swung in San Antonio one night and it just kind of knotted up. I didn't think much about it because you feel nicks and aches every now and then.

The next day, I tried to swing and that's when I really knew something was wrong. I've never really been hurt before, and I was a little shocked about it. But that's the day I went on the DL.

Cole: How long were you in Arizona rehabbing?

Smoak: I think I was in Arizona for probably close to three weeks. I stayed in Frisco for about a week and tried to play. I played one game, and after the game I told them, ‘I've got to shut it down. I've got to figure out what's wrong.' That was basically it.

Cole: How frustrating was that, being down in Arizona and away from a team? I know that's kind of a different feel down there.

Smoak: Yeah, it's different just because it's hot. You're down there, and there's a bunch of young guys down there. It is different, but at the same time, I was just trying to get healthy and get back here and play.

Cole: You got a couple of rehab appearances there in Arizona. I think in your first three at-bats, you hit like two homers and a triple. Talk about playing in those games and what that level of competition was like compared to what you are more used to facing.

Smoak: Of course, they're a bunch of young guys. It was one of those days that just happened. You'd love to have more of those days. Coming off my oblique, I wasn't really trying to do too much when I was down there. I ended up having a game like that. It might have been a little fluke, I don't know.

Cole: After that game, did you tell them you were ready to go back?

Smoak: Yeah. After that game, I told them, ‘I'm ready, everything feels fine.' But they wanted me to hit right-handed because right-handed is when it bothered me. So I stayed down there for another day and then I finally got out of there.

Cole: Since you've been up to Triple-A, you haven't been really getting the hits, but you've been walking and getting on base still. How do you feel about your performance with the RedHawks so far?

Smoak: You know, I tried to do too much early on, I think. That's something I tend to do. When I get in trouble, I try to do too much instead of just going out there and being myself and just playing ball. That's what I've been doing, and right now I'm trying to tune everything down. Hopefully I can get it going.

Cole: Now that you're up here and so close to the Majors, do you have thoughts of getting up there before the season is over?

Smoak: No, not really. I mean, people say, ‘Oh, you're here, so you move up one more and you're there.' But you can't really think about that. Because when you start trying to think about when you're going to be there, I think that's when you start to get in trouble. Being here, I've just got to go out and do what I'm capable of doing and hope for the best.

Cole: What have you been working on with your hitting coach, Scott Coolbaugh?

Smoak: Just the same thing I've been working on—rhythm and timing. I'm just trying to be short and quick to the ball and not trying to do too much. That's my biggest thing. Trying to do too much is when I get into trouble.

Cole: It seems like you've been working your way out of the slump, though. How close do you feel you are to getting to where you want to be up here?

Smoak: I feel alright. I feel good at the plate. It's just a matter of swinging at good pitches and working the count. That's something—I've been a little aggressive since I've been here, and I'm swinging at bad pitches. That's something I'm getting better at.

Cole: It seems like you've been drawing your fair share of walks, though. Is the aggressive approach kind of an at-bat to at-bat thing?

Smoak: It just depends. I feel like I've been making contact, but I just haven't really been squaring balls up like I'm capable of doing. I've just got to keep putting the ball in play and hope they start falling for me.

Cole: It took you a little bit to get your first Triple-A home run. Did you feel a little weight off your shoulders then?

Smoak: Yeah, it felt like a little weight off. I finally got one—I finally hit one good. I think it was the first time I'd hit a ball solid in the past couple of weeks. That felt good. I've just got to keep going up there.

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