Spring training can be a lot of things to many different people. Some veterans use it as a time to shake off the winter cob webs and get back into “baseball shape.” Other players report early to stay in peak physical condition. Managers and general managers will use the opportunity to figure out rotations and at what level some players may begin the season. But for some like Oakland Athletics’ Jake Smolinski, it’s a rare chance to prove himself and earn a spot on the opening day roster.
Smolinski, 27, was drafted out of high school (Boylan Catholic in Rockford, IL) by the Washington Nationals in 2007 and has since bounced around to the Marlins, Rangers, and the Athletics. In 2015 for both the Rangers and A’s, he competed in 76 contests and slashed a less than impressive .193/.281/.367 to go along with his six home runs and 26 RBIs. This was a drop off from an impressive first year with the Rangers when he posted a .349 batting average in 24 games after exploding onto the scene after entering his first big league game as a pinch hitter.
But off years happen. Every baseball fan knows that slumps will come and go and “knuckling” up and overcoming these obstacles in what makes a good ball player. So far this spring Smolinski is doing just that. Although teammates Billy Burns and Josh Reddick are hitting a little better for the moment (.500), they do have fewer games under their belt. No outfielder on the A’s roster has appeared more this spring than Smolinski’s eight games. The only one close is Andrew Lambo (seven games) who’s .444/.500/.889 is the only comparable slash to Smolinski’s .357/.357/.500.
Smolinski does have some competition, as Oakland mostly uses a platoon system in deploying their outfielders. No one played what could be considered a full season, but a handful played more than 100 games in 2015, such as Burns (125), Reddick (149), Mark Canha (124), and Sam Fuld (120). Even newly acquired Chris Coghlan (formerly of the Chicago Cubs) was apart of 148 games in 2015. If averages are your thing, Burns (.294) and Reddick (.272) had better seasons in 2015 than Smolinski (.226) and Fuld (.197) was worse; Canha (.254) and Coghlan (.250) were comparably even.
There are some good players on this A’s roster but if Smolinski continues playing as well as he is this spring, he should earn a spot in what is expected to be a standard five man outfield. Also to his benefit is his ability to play all three positions. He may not start opening day (although that discussion should continue to be open) but in a platoon system such as this one, he should find a permanent home in Oakland this season.