Smoak could earn, run with starting job

Consistent playing time may help lead to a bounce-back season

Smoak could earn, run with starting job

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Who's on first? The Blue Jays are hoping Justin Smoak will grab hold of the starting job and not let go.

After sharing time for the past two seasons with Chris Colabello, Smoak now has the chance to own the job all to himself.

"This year, I'm going to get more of an opportunity to play, and it kind of eases your mind just knowing what to expect," Smoak said. "Sometimes when you're not in there every day, you never know when that time's going to come."

Not getting steady at-bats may have been a factor in Smoak's slump last season, when his strikeout percentage was a career-high 32.8 percent.

"I want a big bounce-back year for Smokey," manager John Gibbons said. "Last year he tailed off a little bit, but I think he's in a good frame of mind, he looks good.

"Late in the season there is limited playing time and not everybody can come off the bench, sit for awhile and be productive."

Smoak has proven he can hit for power and play top-notch defence, with his excellent range at first providing nice security for Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. While Smoak has taken pressure off the rest of Toronto's infield, the key for him is to take more pressure off of himself.

Smoak's athletic play at first

"I feel like the last couple of years, I just put too much pressure on myself in [those] chances ...instead of going out and playing the game and having fun," Smoakd said. "That's my main goal for this year -- to go out there and have fun."

For Smoak, it's a relief to enter a spring knowing that if he plays well, he can have the starting job all to himself -- a far cry from his previous years, when every season it seemed he faced a different hurdle.

"It's just a learning experience, and I think I'm in a better place mentally," Smoak said. "It's just a matter of going out there and having fun playing the game of baseball again."

Mike Nabors is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.