SEATTLE -- Eric Wedge has heard the argument that Justin Smoak has played long enough now that it's clear he'll never develop into a quality Major League hitter. But the Mariners manager isn't buying it.
Wedge sees significant optimism in Smoak's late-season hot streak this year as the 25-year-old hit .400 (22-for-55) over his last 15 games and .338 with five home runs in 23 games in September.
"I think it's the most real it's ever been in my time here," Wedge said prior to Monday night's series opener with the Angels. "Just because of the fundamental changes, and the consistency with which he's been able to sustain that swing, that approach, that mindset. The way he's taking pitches, the way the ball's coming off his bat from both sides of the plate. I'm as encouraged as I've ever been with him."
As for whether it's enough to change the offseason plans for what the Mariners need to do at first base?
"I'm probably the last person to talk to about that, because I've always felt so strongly about him, because of the work ethic," Wedge said. "He has championship character about him. He's a good teammate. I think he's tough. You just put all those things together, you have to believe.
"You trust in the process of baseball that it's going to come. The one thing I think it's always tough for people to understand, whether you're in the game or out of the game, it doesn't always come on our timetable."
Smoak has hit .222 in 1,247 career at-bats over two and a half years in the Majors, but Wedge said he's still developing.
"You don't know what kind of big leaguer you have until they've been up here for two and a half or three years," he said. "It takes that period of time to actually settle in. You look at all the great players -- and there's a few that get it right away, a few I could talk about on one hand that are first-ballot Hall of Fame guys -- but more times than not it just takes time because it's the big leagues and the highest level in the world.
"It's just not that easy. That's why patience is rewarded more so in this game than any other sport. He's in pretty good shape. You talk about Michael Saunders last year at this time -- which we weren't -- and you talk about Michael Saunders right now, that's a great example internally.
"But if you look throughout the game and say, 'This guy is a pretty good player,' well, look at their first year or second year. What did they do in their first 1,000 at-bats? They're not the same guy you're seeing right now. That's why you've got to trust your ability to evaluate and give them the time to do that."