Marlins Love Smolinski's Hard-Nosed Approach





MIAMI—Double-A Jacksonville manager Andy Barkett acknowledges the unfair comparison, but he can't help but think of Jeff Conine when he projects outfielder Jake Smolinski.

Though Smolinski still hasn't put together the type of offensive season to merit a Mr. Marlin Jr. moniker, he possesses all the skills he needs to do it.

At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Smolinski isn't quite as physical as Conine, but the organization loves his toughness and hard-nosed approach. Those two traits made Conine, now a Marlins special assistant, a fan favorite and two-time all-star.

"A left fielder who will get it done in the outfield, drive in runs and hit," Barkett said of Smolinski, 23. "He's got that quiet approach, line-drive hitter, gap hitter. All of us are kind of waiting for him to have a year where his ability matches his numbers.

"He's got good discipline, hits the ball hard, has good hands. He's got a good feel for the game. There's potential in there for a productive bat, possibly an everyday player."

A Nationals 2007 second-round pick out of high school in Rockford, Ill., Smolinski joined the Marlins in the trade that sent Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen to Washington following the 2008 season. He's back with Barkett in Jacksonville after batting .245/.342/.364 with seven homers in 396 at-bats last year, while walking more often (59) than he struck out (57).

Barkett is encouraged by the way Smolinski is repeating his hitting mechanics. Last year, his approach to the ball at times would vary from at-bat to at-bat.

"This year he looks comfortable," Barkett said. "He's going to see some pitches. Sometimes he sees too many. Instead of taking that ball four inches off the plate, I'd like to see him drive in two runs with a single to right."

Drafted as a third baseman, Smolinski found a home in left field last season. In a pinch, Smolinski probably could play first, second or third base, Barkett said.

"He's athletic enough, and all the other intangibles are there," Barkett said. "At this point it's just putting together a productive season."

FISH BITES

• Outfielder Christian Yelich returned from the high Class A Jupiter disabled list on April 15 and went 5-for-10 in his first three games. He bruised his right elbow in spring training when teammate J.T. Realmuto accidently flung his bat toward Yelich in the on-deck circle.

• Jacksonville righthander Joey O'Gara felt elbow discomfort after his second start. He allowed four runs on nine hits through 12 innings.