ARLINGTON -- Justin Smoak took batting practice for the first time at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and was having a hard time getting distance on the ball. From behind a screen at first base, Eddie Guardado was good-naturedly letting him hear about it. Smoak replied with a sharp grounder right at Guardado, who did an exaggerated dance of fear from behind the protective screen. Smoak, hitting from the left side, then belted a long drive to deep right that crashed off the facade of the upper deck. The Rangers hope it's the first of many, whether it's batting practice or a real game
"He has a chance to be an impact player," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who watched Smoak taking batting practice while standing next to owner Tom Hicks. Hicks hopes so, having paid out $3.5 million to Smoak as the 11th overall pick and $1,575,000 to pitcher Robbie Ross, the Rangers' second-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Between the two of them, the Rangers went more than $2 million over what the Commissioner's Office was recommending for those two "slots" in the Draft. The Rangers got in trouble with the Commissioner's Office last year for the amount of money they paid out in signing bonuses, but that didn't deter them this time around. Hicks was in communication with the Commissioner's Office on Saturday but wasn't particularly worried. "I told them I thought our guys did a great job of getting the job done and balancing it all out," Hicks said. "The agent wants more, and the Commissioner wants less. One day we'll have a hard slot system, but until then we've got to go through the dance." The Rangers were hoping to get this done two months ago, but on Saturday they were finally able to introduce Smoak at a press conference. The two sides reached an agreement on Friday night at around 10:45 p.m. CT, just 15 minutes before the signing deadline. Smoak was hoping for a Major League contract, which would have put him immediately on the 40-man roster. The Rangers were resistant, and Smoak's agent, Dustin Bledsoe, finally dropped that demand on Friday. That facilitated an agreement that kept Smoak from going back to the University of South Carolina for his senior season. "There was a chance of going back to school, but in the end of the day, I made a decision to be a Texas Ranger," Smoak said. "We got it done and I'm very excited. Going into [Friday] I felt we would get something done. I didn't realize the business side of it, but now I do. The only thing I want to do is play baseball, and that's very exciting." Smoak worked out with the Rangers on Saturday and will join Class A Clinton on Sunday. He will go into the lineup almost immediately. He hasn't played since before he was drafted, but he has been working out in Atlanta during the summer. "Have I faced a 95-mile-per-hour fastball lately? No, I haven't," Smoak said. "I'll need to practice, take a lot of batting practice, strap it on and play. Every kid wants to be in the big leagues as soon as possible. My goal is to go out and play, let the chips fall where they may, have fun and whatever happens, happens."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.