This is probably the first time you are hearing of Texas Rangers’ outfielder Jake Smolinski. It is not your fault, really. The Texas Rangers were not worth watching towards the end of the season, when Smolinski made his debut, as their playoff aspirations had all but faded by July. If you did, however, endure (suffer) the pointless (in its most literal sense) games down the stretch you may have been fixed upon the young corner outfielder at one point or another.
After all, he did hit a crisp .349 and posted an outstanding 154 wRC+ within the 92 plate appearances he was allocated. From a simplistic perspective those numbers are worth conversing about alone; however, in context they lose their value. For one, 92 plate appearances is too small a sample size to draw any reasonable conclusions from in terms of future production. Secondly and equally as important, the .458 BABIP Smolinski sported had a huge bearing on his success and thereby detracts away from the sustainability of his MLB numbers. In all likelihood, his BABIP will deviate towards the .299 2014 MLB average and, if it was not already entirely obvious, his production will drop as a consequence.
With that said, there are certain players who make a living off having a high batting average on balls in play. For example, Derek Jeter‘s career .350 BABIP, which ranks 30th on the all-time list, guided the recently-retired Yankee great to offensive prosperity. There is a chance Smolinski could be that guy. Actually, there isn’t — well, there is it is just the odds are very minuscule — considering in Triple-A with the Miami Marlins (357 PA) he put up a .294 BABIP and in Double-A with the Texas Rangers (307 PA) he put up a .295 BABIP. Seeing as how his BABIPs at those levels, the most recent levels of which decent sample sizes can be judged, were compiled in a much more viable data size, it is not erroneous to assume that Smolinski, if given the chance, will be a close to .300 BABIP player like an average big leaguer.
The numbers the 2007 2nd round draft pick collected in his first stint in the major were, without a doubt, inflated by an unsustainable BABIP. So, the question thus becomes: can Smolinski be a decent player with a normal (in terms of his ability) BABIP? It is tough question to answer because only time can truly answer it, but what we can do is look at Steamer/600, a highly-regarded projection system that is modified in this instance to forecast what a player is expected to do given regular playing time (600 plate appearances) in 2015. Let’s take a quick look at Smolinski’s Steamer projections, along with the 2014 MLB averages, to get a feel for how the objective numbers view the 25-year-old.
- Steamer Projection for Smolinski: .312 OBP, .372 SLG, 89 wRC+, and 0.4 fWAR
- 2014 MLB Averages: .314 OBP, .386 SLG, and 96 wRC+
As one should see, the projections do not anticipate he will do very well going forward; they think of him as a below-average player, in fact. But, per usual, there are multiple caveats surrounding any projection system, especially pertaining to young players whose defensive metrics are impossible to predict in the future with any accuracy.
In truth, I am unsure what kind of defensive player the right-handed hitter will become, but on the offensive side I would not be shocked to see him manifest into a league-average hitter. Now, I understand Steamer does not agree and that is fine. But take a look at Smolinski’s minor league stats in the two levels from 2013 to 2014 where he gathered ample plate appearances.
- 2013 (357 PA) Triple-A New Orleans: 10.4 BB%, 17.1 K%, .143 ISO, 98 wRC+
- 2014 (307 PA) Double-A Frisco: 10.4 BB%, 17.6 K%, .192 ISO, 130 wRC+
He took walks at an exceptional rate at both of those levels and he did not strikeout often. His discipline is encouraging and has historically boded well for future performance at the MLB level.
The Texas Rangers do not have a starting left fielder at this juncture and according to Roster Resources are actually slated to start Smolinski in left. They have other options such as Ryan Rua, the disastrous (at least last year) Michael Choice and Kyle Blanks to hold down the starting job in left. It is also possible they place Jurickson Profar or Rougned Odor in the outfield once Profar is healthy enough to get back into action; however, Smolinski may as well be the safest bet among them.
At the very least, Jake Smolinski is a nice depth piece for Texas. Lord knows they were plagued by injuries last year; thus, having depth in the outfield is fairly ideal.