Justin Smoak went from being one of the most strikeout prone hitters in 2016 to becoming an all-star and one of the more feared power hitters in the American League in 2017.

Last February many people, including myself, were ready to give up on Justin Smoak and start pushing for the Blue Jays to start up-and-comer Rowdy Tellez at 1st base.

These thoughts weren’t unjustified either.  Smoak was coming off a miserable 2016 where he hit for a piddly .217 AVG and struck out 112 times in just 341 PA.  This combined with the monster season Tellez had in Double A New Hampshire (.297/.387/.530), and it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to think Smoak had perhaps been surpassed on the Blue Jays depth chart by Tellez.

Sure, Smoak has always been a stellar defensive 1st baseman, but unless he did something to finally curb his poor performance at the plate, it appeared as if his time with the Blue Jays, and in the big leagues for that matter was coming to a close.

If you look at Smoak’s statistics back in 2016, you see the numbers of a strikeout prone player, possessing plus power, and who can’t hit for much AVG.  In 2016, Smoak hit a home run every 24.4 PA…whereas in 2017, he hit one every 16.8 PA.  As for strikeouts, which to this point in his career had always been Smoak’s achilles heal, he lowered his strikeout rate from 32.8% in 2016 (2nd worst in baseball that season, only behind Chris Davis‘ 32.9%) to just 20% in 2017.

Smoak becoming an all-star/elite power hitter couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the Blue Jays.  After losing Edwin Encarnacion to free agency, and then the disappointing year Jose Bautista had last season, the heart of the Blue Jays order had taken a serious blow in 2017.  The Blue Jays desperately needed a quality power bat to follow Josh Donaldson in the order, and had Smoak not emerged as he did, it’s scary to think what Toronto’s 3-hole would have looked like in 2017.

This season, Toronto will need Smoak yet again to continue hitting at an all-star pace (or close to it) and hold things down in the 3-spot.  With the addition of Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz, and Randal Grichuk, Toronto’s offense should at least be better than it was in 2017.  Unfortunately, it’s still a far cry from the powerhouse it was back in 2015, but Smoak’s continued success at the plate is a must if Toronto is to have any chance of being competitive this season.

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