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Rangers' draft mood goes up in Smoak

ARLINGTON, Texas — Less than a year ago, the Rangers restocked their farm system by trading away former first-round pick Mark Teixeira.

According to virtually every published scouting report, they may have landed the next Teixeira — or Chipper Jones — by selecting South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak with the 11th pick in the Major League Baseball draft Thursday.

The Rangers are having none of it.

“I don’t think you want to compare any young player who has never played professional baseball to guys like that,” scouting director Ron Hopkins said. “But this is a good player. We said we were going to take the best available player when we picked, and this was the best player.”

Maybe the Rangers didn’t draw the comparison because they didn’t think they had much chance to grab Smoak, who hit .383 with 23 homers for South Carolina this season. In a draft supposedly deep in talented first basemen, Smoak, 21, was ranked as the top college player at the position by Baseball America. The Rangers expected Smoak to be gone before the draft hit double digits.

But when the Florida Marlins passed on University of Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso to take high school catcher Kyle Skipworth with the sixth pick, it triggered a chain of events that allowed the Rangers to select Smoak.

Smoak is expected to receive more than “slot” money for the No. 11 pick, which is between $1.9 million and $2 million. The Rangers have until Aug. 15 to sign him. If they don’t, they will be awarded a first-round pick next year as compensation.

“Our expectation is to do what we can to reach a fair compromise and get him out and playing,” general manager Jon Daniels said.

Smoak is flattered by the comparisons of his swing to those of Jones and Teixeira.

“To even be mentioned in the same sentence with guys like Chipper and Mark Teixeira is overwhelming,” Smoak said. “I’ve always looked up to Chipper and, more recently, to Mark Teixeira. A lot of people say I act like Chipper, that I swing like him, that I even talk like him. But it’s nothing I try to do. I’m just a fan of his. Those guys just seem like team guys to me, and that’s what I am. I try to put the team first.”

Smoak’s brilliant junior season at South Carolina followed a rough summer with Team USA. While fellow high draft picks Pedro Alvarez (No. 2), Brett Wallace (No. 13) and Logan Forsythe (No. 46) all hit above .300 with Team USA, Smoak hit just .223 with a .291 on-base percentage.

“I saw him early and he was good, but I think he just got worn down at the end,” Hopkins said. “The guys who went off the board in the top 20 picks are high-level hitters. It’s hard to pass on a guy with this kind of bat.”