A reader asked me recently what I thought about Texas Rangers rookie outfielder Jake Smolinski, who is 11-for-29 (.379) in his first nine big league games. He set a Rangers franchise record with eight hits in his first four games. So who is this guy?
Smolinski was originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the second round in 2007, from high school in Rockford, Illinois. He began his career as an outfielder and hit .305/.387/.410 in rookie ball. In 2008 he was moved to second base, where scouts felt that both his bat and glove profiled better, and hit .261/.338/.402 in 50 games in Low-A. Traded to the Florida Marlins in the Josh Willingham deal that fall, he hit .283/.379/.448 in '09 but was limited to 77 games in Low-A by knee surgery.
He played third base in High-A in 2010 but struggled defensively and didn't show enough bat for the position, hitting .264/.318/.383. Moved back to the outfield in 2011, he played three more seasons in the high minors for the Marlins but did not thrive, hitting a combined .250/.362/.375 in 316 Double-A games and .258/.345/.401 in 95 games in Triple-A.
The Rangers picked him up as a free agent and he hit .267/.349/.459 with a career-best 10 homers in 80 games between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock before his promotion to the majors.
A 5-11, 215 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, Smolinski was born February 2, 1989. He's always done a good job controlling the strike zone and drew walks in the minors, but he didn't hit for high averages and his power was marginal. The biggest problem has been finding a defensive profile: he didn't have the instincts or quickness to play the infield regularly, doesn't run well enough to play center, and doesn't hit well enough to start at an outfield corner.
Smolinski's best hope is to be a jack-of-all-trades utility guy who gets on base and hits some doubles, a plausible niche in an age of giant pitching staffs and short benches.