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Monday, May 26, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg

Major League Baseball Draft Preview: Hitter Justin Smoak

Continuing our 2008 draft preview, we look at the draft's best first base prospect in in Justin Smoak, the 21 year old from South Carolina.

The one thing that jumps out at me when I watch Justin Smoak is the ball jumps off his bat. Just check out this video below:

But what does his swing look like at a more in-depth level?

College hitter Justin Smoak batting left handed Justin Smoak Left-Handed

We see the initial hand load as Smoak shifts his weight forward. Notice as he is moving forward, the bat stays connected with his body indicating a relatively short swing. This also gives you an indication of how strong Smoak's wrists are.

We can also see Smoak firmly plant his front foot and then turn aggressively on that front leg. He lets his hips and hands rotate together as opposed to achieving extension, which is when the batter lets their hands get out in front to meet the ball, sapping the player of much of their power.

Also look at how his elbow disappears behind the bat as he simultaneously shifts his weight forward into foot plant. This is the second loading process for Smoak. It isn't as dramatic a loading process as Texas Rangers prospect Chris Davis shows off, but the power Smoak displays is almost as impressive nonetheless.

Smoak has an ideal power hitter's swing plane, which will generate plenty of fly balls. The bat stays in the hitting zone long enough where he should be able to hit for at least a solid average since the contact he makes is usually of the hard variety.

A very important thing to look for when evaluating a hitter is the contact point. You want to let the ball travel as deep as you can before making the commitment to swing. You can get a good indication of a player's bat speed by seeing how far they let the ball travel.

Smoak does a pretty good job of letting the ball travel, though he could stand to let it travel just a little bit deeper. This also may be a result of just this one particular swing, so keep that in mind.

What about from the right side?

College hitter Justin Smoak batting right handed Smoak Right-Handed

This is a batting practice swing, so not everything we want to look for shows up in this swing, but we can see a couple things:

His swing might be just a little bit longer from the right side than left side. Again, we see an excellent ability to load his hands and generate power as he steps into foot plant. And once again, the ball jumps off his bat.

Other Notes

The downside with Smoak is that he basically is what he is. He could add a little more weight to his frame, but he is already physically mature. He also will be solely limited to first base or DH if he is drafted by an AL team. While he may not have great range, he does show off pretty good hands and some even tout him as a great defensive first baseman.

From various scouting reports, Smoak does have good plate discipline and pitch recognition, though some think he does have some problems with off-speed pitches. Either way, coming into this year, he had walked more times than he struck out, which does indicate very good plate discipline.

Smoak should also have no problems transfering his power from aluminum bats to wood bats. His power is legit no matter what material the bat is made of.

Final Thoughts

You know what you're getting with Smoak: a first baseman with plus power at both sides of the plate with the potential to hit between 30 and 40 homers on a yearly basis. He may not get much better, but he is already good as is.

8.5 Upside, Low-Average Probability
6 Downside, Low-Average Probability

Possible Destinations: Baltimore Orioles (4), San Francisco Giants (5), Florida Marlins (6), Chicago White Sox (8), Washington Nationals (9)

Best Fit: Orioles, Gians, White Sox, Nationals

For an explanation of the grading scale, please click here

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References for this article: Minor League Baseball

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Player Scouting Reports

Scouting/Mechanics Terminology Glossary

2008 Prospect Preview Series

MLB Draft Scouting Reports

Also See...

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Hitting Prospects to Watch in 2008

Francisco Liriano - What's Changed Since Injury?


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