Friday, August 3, 2012

Travis Snider

Travis Snider, 24, is the man the Bucs hope can claim right field, where they've been looking for a guy with some pop to free up Garrett Jones for first base duty. He's gone from a Top Ten prospect to a player it looks like the Blue Jays have given up on. Still, in 844 big league at bats, he's launched 31 homers and brought home 112 runs, and that's not bad production for a season and some change.

The outfielder has been compared to Pedro Alvarez, one year his senior, from his mercurial play in the show to his ping-ponging between the bigs and minors. Oh yeah, maybe because he can lose balls like Pedro, too, when it's going right. The lines: Snider - 927 PA, .249/.307/.428 with 31 HR, 112 RBI, 27% K; Pedro - 1008 PA, .232./.305/.423 with 41 HR and 141 RBI, 31% K. Scary, hey?

He played baseball at Henry M. Jackson High School in Washington, the same school that once-upon-a-time Bucco Brent Lillibridge attended, where he was selected to the 2006 USA Today All-USA high school baseball team. He was big time even as a tiny tot; Snider played for the Mill Creek team at the 1999 Little League Western Regional Tournament.

Maybe he and Neil Walker can bond about the glory days in the clubhouse. Snider played football, too, as a running back/linebacker for the Timberwolves, and drew a little attention from some PAC 10 schools. But baseball was his forte. The Toronto Blue Jays took him in the first round (14th overall) in the 2006 draft, and paid him $1.7M to trade in the pigskin for horsehide.

Snider began his professional career in 2006 with the Pulaski Blue Jays. He hit .301 with a couple of homers in 24 games. For that, the eighteen year old ended up winning the Short Season Player of The Year honors for the Appalachian League and was named a Baseball America Rookie All-Star.

In 2007, he was promoted to the Class A Lansing Lugnuts. He was a Midwest League All-Star and BA's Minor League & Low Class A All Star. Snider tore it up in fall ball, too, where he was named to the Arizona Fall League All-Prospect Team and an AFL Rising Star.

He began the 2008 season with the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League. He hurt his left elbow in the spring, so spent his time in Class A as a DH. After 17 games, he was promoted to the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League.

The youngster started off slowly, but eventually got his bat back in order and healed up enough to patrol the pasture again. He earned an All-Star berth and won the EL Home Run Derby by hitting 10 home runs in his home yard. In August, the Blue Jays promoted Snider to the AAA Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. After 18 games there, he was called to the show.

Snider became the youngest position player in the majors at the tender age of 20. The night he was called up, he started and doubled off the Yankee's Carl Pavano for his first big-league hit. A week later, Snider smacked his first MLB home run off Kevin Slowey of the Twins, becoming the fourth youngest Blue Jay to homer. After his first cup of coffee with Toronto, his line read .301/2/13 in 24 games.

But in hindsight, the rapid advancement through three minor league levels to MLB may have been too aggressive, particularly in the upper tiers. He did get parts of four seasons in AAA and almost 800 plate appearances, but never played more than 60 games at that level during any single year. Maybe slowing down and spending an entire season somewhere would have better prepared him for the show, from the cat-and-mouse of pitching adjustments to working through an extended slump. Life in the fast lane...

Baseball America thought his progress was excellent, though, and ranked Snider sixth on their list of 2009's best baseball prospects. He moved up five spots from the previous year's rankings, and ahead of cats like Madison Bumgarner (# 9), Buster Posey (#14) and Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton (#16).

He made the club out of camp in 2009. He was expected to challenge Adam Lind for the LF job, and got a boost when Vernon Wells went down in the spring. Snider had a home run and double on Opening Day, and became the youngest player in franchise history to hit two home runs in a game on April 13th against the Twins. But the good times didn't last, and he was sent down to AAA in May. Snider was recalled in August, and homered in his first at-bat back. He finished the season at .241/9/29 with 241 at-bats.

Snider posted his biggest numbers in 2010. He got into a personal high of 82 games with nearly 300 at bats, responding with 14 HR and 32 RBI and a line of .255/.304/.463. And that was with spraining his wrist in May, costing him a couple of months and a couple of trips to the DL.

After opening the 2011 season in Toronto, Snider was optioned to the Las Vegas 51s in late April after staying south of the Mendoza line in his first 25 games. It didn't help that he had an intercostal (rib cage) sprain suffered while golfing in the spring and missed the first two weeks of camp.

On July 3rd, he was recalled by the Blue Jays, and a month later was sent back to make room for Brett Lawrie after hitting .225/3/30. He was diagnosed with tendinitis in his right wrist on August 25th, ending his 2011 season.

Snider came to 2012 camp to battle for the LF spot, but was cut in favor of Eric Thames (who ironically was traded on the same day as Snider, also for a reliever). He was again bothered by his wrist at LV, missing scattered time in April, May and June when he jammed it diving for a ball.

He was pulled from his minor league game on July 20th after being called up to replace Ben Francisco, who was shipped to Houston. Playing against the Seattle Mariners on July 30th, Snider was trotting out to left field for the bottom of the seventh inning when he was called back to the dugout again, this time to find out that he had been traded to the Pirates for Brad Lincoln. They were both members of the same 2006 draft class: Lincoln was the fourth overall pick, and Snider was the fourteenth selection.

At four different levels of the minors, Snider has excelled with a slash of .308/.383/.528 and 86 HR in 500 games. In the show, he's less impressive at .249/.307/.408 with 31 HR and 112 RBI in 244 games, but certainly not a total reclamation job. He's a first rounder who has been ranked in the Top Hundred by BA three times (#53, #11 and #6) with more minor league honors than MacArthur had medals.

The Bucs took a calculated risk at tapping Snider's upside. He was never really properly developed by the Jays, partially because he was said to be a guy that rubbed his first manager, Cito Gaston, the wrong way; partially because he's a streaky hitter that was never given a long look to even out the bumps; and partially because he was yo-yoed between the show and the bushes. After all, he was an 18 year old HS draftee and was in the majors before he was old enough to buy a drink to celebrate..

Snider has also proven fragile for being such a big galoot (6', 235 lb), missing large chunks of time to a bad wrist and a variety of other injuries from concussions to sprains, and that plays into his lack of lineup love, too.

But Pittsburgh has an FO that throughout the years loves pedigrees and trying to tease talent out of underperforming players, running the gamut from AJ Burnett to Andy LaRoche. Snider will have a long leash here until the club finds out if he's the second coming of Brandon Moss, Brian Giles, or something in between.


WilliamJPellas said...

Great writeup on Snider, Ron, really really good.

I didn't know about Snider's history of wrist injuries. That's definitely cause for concern. However, I'm still slack-jawed amazed that Toronto gave up on him so quickly, and that they didn't hold out for more than mildly disappointing first rounder Brad Lincoln in exchange for him. I know Cito Gaston, even today, casts a long shadow over that entire organization, but even so, you'd think somebody in their front office would have gone to bat for him.

As for his ceiling, I think it is potentially very high indeed. I am not a fan of high strikeout hitters, particularly when they're so big that they don't have to swing that hard to hit home runs, but Snider already looks like a better hitter than Pedro Alvarez as far as I'm concerned. I'm thinking we might be looking at a .260 - .270ish hitter with 30 home runs if he can take the field every day.

Ron Ieraci said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Ieraci said...

Thx, Will. I think he has upside, too, but he will be a project.

My concern is losing Lincoln. I don't mind that he's gone as he was pretty popular in almost all the trade discussions. But the Bucs have a pen loaded with mid-inning guys now. I'd feel better if maybe Bryan Morris or another set-up type guy was added to the mix. Hurdle won't use Hanny outside of a save, and that leaves us with Grilli pretty much; I think the peripherals point to Hughes being due for a regression.