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Smoak's dedication pays off with All-Star nod

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Justin Smoak was once written off. Now he's the starting first baseman for the American League at the upcoming MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard in Miami.

Toronto successfully "Smoaked the Vote" with an extensive marketing campaign that resulted in Smoak taking over the top spot at first. He had been gaining ground on Eric Hosmer over the last several weeks and surpassed the Royals' first baseman just in time to earn the starting nod.

TORONTO -- Justin Smoak was once written off. Now he's the starting first baseman for the American League at the upcoming MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard in Miami.

Toronto successfully "Smoaked the Vote" with an extensive marketing campaign that resulted in Smoak taking over the top spot at first. He had been gaining ground on Eric Hosmer over the last several weeks and surpassed the Royals' first baseman just in time to earn the starting nod.

This marks the first time Smoak has been named to the All-Star team, and he is the lone representative from the Blue Jays. He easily has been Toronto's most valuable player through the first three months of the season and has now been rewarded for his breakout campaign.

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"I think it's something that as young kid you always dreamed of," Smoak said. "That's what you want to be, an All-Star in the big leagues. I think early on in my career, coming up through the Minor Leagues, getting drafted, that's what I expected of myself. It didn't happen that way, but I'm here now and I'm excited to be a part of it."

Smoak has shown plenty of power before, but never quite like this. His 22 home runs are already a career high, and after never hitting above .239 in his big league career, Smoak finished Sunday's game batting .303. Add in a .964 OPS -- which leads all AL first baseman -- and a team-high 52 RBIs and it has been a banner year for the native of South Carolina.

This is the type of player Smoak was expected to become when he was taken by the Rangers with the 11th overall pick of the 2008 Draft. At the time, Smoak was considered one of the best prospects in baseball and was later traded to the Mariners for No. 1 starter Cliff Lee. The big leagues proved to be a much bigger challenge, though, and although he hit 20 homers in 2013, he had just one season with an OPS above .750.

Despite the lack of overall success, teams remained interested because of Smoak's work with the glove and the always-enticing power. That prompted the Blue Jays to give him a pair of a one-year contracts, and last season they went a step further by giving him a two-year deal worth $8.5 million. At the time, the contract was widely panned by most critics but it has since become one of the better bargains in all of baseball.

Video: MLB Tonight on Smoak being the only Blue Jay in ASG

"I worked so hard to try and change a lot of different things, to get better," said Smoak, who added he was asked to participate in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby but declined. "At one point, a few times I even forgot how I used to hit. I think I've learned from that. I think I've made some adjustments and I feel like I'm back to feeling the way I was feeling when I was a kid, as an amateur, as a guy in the Minor Leagues. I feel like I'm getting back to that point now."

Fans can cast ballots for the 2017 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote on MLB.com, Club sites and their mobile devices until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. The winners, as chosen exclusively by online fan voting totals, will then be announced during "MLB Tonight" live on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. Extensive coverage throughout the Final Vote will be provided by MLB Network and MLB.com, including interviews with the candidates, frequent updates, heat maps indicating where votes are being cast for each candidate, news on player and club campaigns, and a running countdown clock leading up to the announcement.

Now in its 16th season, with more than 680 million votes cast, the Final Vote again will include social votes on the last day of balloting, as Twitter support for the 10 candidates over the final six hours of balloting will count toward their vote totals. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET on Thursday, any tweet that includes a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the official vote total used to determine the winners.

On Tuesday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Justin Smoak