The rash of injuries this season has offered opportunities for players to step in to starting roles that would previously have been unavailable to them. Some, like Rougned Odor, have performed admirably, blossoming into a capable middle infielder at the tender age of 20 and making second base a competition next season when Jurickson Profar returns. Others, like Michael Choice, failed to establish themselves as players capable of holding down an everyday spot, forcing the club to dig deeper into the minors to field a major league squad.
Alright, so the sample size is extremely small. Despite this, it’s hard to complain about a guy who set a Rangers club record with 8 hits in his first four major league starts, has drawn comparisons to Rusty Greer (former Rangers left fielder, not the radio spokesman who advocates mainlining testosterone directly into the heart), and looks to have secured the starting left field position until the injury bug inevitable bites him (nice try, Garrett Richards).
So where did Smolinski come from?
The Rangers signed him as a free agent in November 2013. He was originally drafted in the second round (70th overall) of the 2007 MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals. He was traded to the Marlins in November 2008. He was granted free agency in November of 2013, 15 days before being scooped up by Texas.
He was consistent throughout his minor league career, hitting .262/.354/.391 from 2008-2013, spanning from Short Season Vermont (WASH) to AAA New Orleans (MIA) – his best season came in 2009, where he slashed .283/.379/.448 with an .827 OPS for the Greensboro Grasshoppers (A ball).
While he doesn’t have a huge frame (5’11, 215 lbs), Smolinski generates fantastic bat speed thanks to his great strength and healthy living (think Gabe Kapler).
Fun fact: while attending high school at Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford Illinois, Jake refused to eat a birthday cake baked by his then girlfriend because it violated his strict self-imposed diet.
Smolinski looks like a former top draft pick that has the talent teams are willing to gamble on and hope he figures something out, and that time might have arrived at age 25.
So why haven’t the Rangers been signing more high upside former top draft picks?
They actually have been doing this at an alarmingly high rate
Since January 2012, here’s a list of players acquired via free agency or trade by Texas:
Jake Smolinski – 2nd round – 70th overall, 2007 draft
Greg Reynolds – 1st round, 2nd overall, 2006 draft
Michael Choice – 1st round, 10th overall, 2010 draft
Aaron Poreda – 1st round, 25th overall, 2007 draft
Daniel Bard – 1st round, 28th overall, 2006 draft
Brad Snyder – 1st round, 18th overall, 2003 draft
JP Arencibia – 1st round, 21st overall, 2007 draft
Brandon Snyder – 1st round, 13th overall, 2005 draft
Kyle Lotzkar – 1st round (supplemental), 53rd overall, 2007 draft
Scott Baker – 2nd round, 58th overall, 2003 draft,
Jason Knapp – 2nd round, 2008 draft
Ryan_Feierabend – 3rd round, 86th overall, 2003 draft
Josh Lindblom – 3rd round, 2005 draft
Brandon Allen – 5th round, 2004 draft
Kevin Kouzmanoff – 6th round, 2004 draft
That’s a lot of names that have had very little impact on the major league squad the past few seasons. It seems the Rangers are putting a great deal of faith in their minor league coaching staffs to revamp the approaches of these talented, underachieving former top prospects.
Here’s hoping Jake Smolinski is the guy that turns this list around and plays himself into a 2015 contributor.