ARLINGTON, TX—On Tuesday, Justin Smoak returned to Globe Life Park yet again as a visitor, but this was the first Arlington appearance for the former Rangers’ top prospect as a Toronto Blue Jay. Now 28, Smoak, the 11th pick in the 2008 draft, debuted with the Rangers in 2010 but that July was traded to Seattle in the blockbuster deal that netted Cliff Lee.
Smoak’s time with the Mariners was eventful, as he shuttled between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma. During the offseason, Toronto claimed him off waivers and the South Carolina native couldn’t be happier about being a Blue Jay.
Smoak shares first base duties with Chris Colabello, who plays against lefties while Smoak gets the nod from manager John Gibbons against righties. “So far so good. The last few weeks or month haven’t been as great, but other than that, I feel like I’ve been grinding through it,” Smoak said. “Play mainly against righties and get a few at-bats here and there righty against lefties, but yeah, we got a great team and [I’m] excited to be here.”
Besides getting a fresh start, another big positive with the move to Toronto is that he’s now on a winner, something he couldn’t say for most of his time in Seattle, except for in 2014 when the Mariners made a late-season push for a wild-card spot. And Smoak sees similarities between this Toronto team and that 2010 Ranger team that won the American League and advanced to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
“Yeah, when I left Texas, I went from a winning team to a team that hadn’t won too many games. This just kind of reminds me of that 2010 Texas team, that team that went to the World Series,” Smoak said. “This offense is ridiculous just like that offense was.”
Gibbons admits he didn’t know what to expect from Smoak when the Jays signed him, but thus far he has no complaints.
“Smoaky’s done a great job for us,” Gibbons said. “A lot of people in the organization liked him. We knew he had the big power, great defender. He’s been productive. He’s hit some big home runs for us, played some unbelievable defense and he’s a good guy. He’s fit in, big part of the team out there.”
In Tuesday’s series opener, a game won 6-5 by the Jays, Smoak didn’t start but came on late as a pinch hitter and then stayed in the game for the ninth inning at first base.
He has now played 67 career games against the Rangers and admits that no matter how many times he returns to Arlington, it never gets old. “Always, this place will always be where I made my debut. It’s the team that drafted me. Yeah, it’s fun to come back and see some of the guys. They got a lot of different guys over there now. Yeah, this place will always have a place for me no matter where I’m at,” Smoak said.