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Jake Smolinski Continues to Hit in Double-A

Marlins prospect Jake Smolinski has had an impressive season playing for the Marlins Double-A affiliate in the Southern League. He hasn’t been one of the best hitters in the league, but he continues to produce runs in the middle of the Suns lineup. Smolinski has always been a prospect with a above-average hit tool, but this is the first year in which he has shown what he is capable of. If Jake Smolinski continues to improve at this rate, he has a chance to play in the Marlins outfield for years to come.

Jake Smolinski was born in February of 1989, which makes him twenty-three right now. Twenty-three is roughly the average age of players in the Southern League. It's always exciting to see a younger prospect put up big numbers in Double-A, but Smolinski isn't technically old for his league. Coming out of a high school in Rockford, IL, Smolinski was offered the chance to not only play on Clemson University’s baseball team, but the opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback role on their football team as well. However, when the Washington Nationals drafted him in the second round, he decided to sign with the team for just under half a million dollars.

Smolinski was a shortstop in high school, but at the time of the draft it seemed improbable that he would stick there. After giving him a quick tryout at shortstop, the Nationals moved Smolinski to the corner outfield. For the 2007 season, Smolinski had a flashy twenty-five games with the Nationals Gulf Coast League affiliate posting a .387 OBP. However, he couldn’t finish his season due to a broken bone in his foot. In 2008, Smolinski had higher expectations from the Washington organization. In ninety-eight at-bat’s in Vermont, Jake Smolinski hit .306/.370/.408. However, after being promoted to Hagerstown, Smolinski came back down to earth. In 184 at-bat’s with Hagerstown, he hit .261/.338/.402. He missed the last couple months of the season with a knee injury that sidelined him for about seven months. Albeit in a small sample size, Nationals fans had to have been fairly impressed with what they had seen from their 2007 second-round draft pick.

In November of 2008, the Nationals traded Jake Smolinski, Emilio Bonifacio, and P.J. Dean to the Marlins for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham. Once healthy, Smolinski spent the 2009 season with Greensboro, where he hit .283/.378/.448. In 2010, the Marlins decided to play it safe with Smolinski, allowing him to spend the whole year with Jupiter in the Florida State League. Surprisingly, Smolinski struggled hitting only .254 with five homers. In 2011, with Double-A Jacksonville, Smolinski hit .245 with an impressive .342 OBP and twenty-six doubles. At this point, nobody knew what to make of the inconsistent Smolinski.

People were wrong to write Smolinski off for the 2012 season. Even though the average wasn’t there in 2011, he got on-base at an impressive clip, and continued to show impressive gap power. Still, Smolinski was going to need to hit more in 2012. The Marlins decided to make Smolinski start at Jacksonville for his second year in a row.

In the first half of the 2012 season, Smolinski hit .293/.403/.387, leading to a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star nomination. Even though the power wasn’t there, Smolinski finally showed consistency, and it made him one of the best hitters in the Jacksonville lineup. In the last eleven games since the All-Star break, Smolinski’s average isn’t there, but he is getting on-base at a .471 clip. If Smolinski continues to hit like this and get on-base, a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans is inevitable.

Jake Smolinski stands six feet tall, and weighs just over two hundred pounds. He is very athletic, which helps him play slightly above-average defense in the corner outfield. He bats right-handed and has a relaxed approach at the plate. In terms of speed, Smolinski is an average runner who will only get slower as the years pass. The power is never going to be there. Smolinski has never hit more than seven homers in a season, and the most he projects to hit is about ten. However, his ability to hit doubles and balls into the gap make up for it. In minor league seasons where Smolinski played over seventy games, he has hit at least twenty doubles.

Smolinski will never be an All-Star, but he could turn into a solid fourth outfielder or second-division starter. His ability to make contact and get on-base separates him from other Marlins minor leaguers. Even though he has taken a lot longer to develop then some thought, Smolinski still has a promising future. Jake Smolinski is a prospect to keep your eye on in Double-A.