For the fifth time since 2009, Travis Snider has been optioned to the minors, much to the dismay of Jays fans. Snider, however, doesn’t dwell on the past and — hear me out on this one — try to do the same for a minute.
Temporarily forget about Snider’s solid debut as the youngest player in the American League in 2008, Baseball America anointing him the sixth-best prospect in baseball the following year in 2009 and his promising 20 doubles and 14 home runs in only a half-season’s worth of at-bats in 2010. Disregard for a second his middle-of-the-order potential, his past displays of a sweet and simple swing and the fact that he has never been given more than 300 at-bats in one Major League season.
GM Alex Anthopoulos stressed this spring that 2011 performance would factor heavily into the the Blue Jays’ decision on their Opening Day left fielder, and, unfortunately, Snider’s wasn’t the best.
It’s a story we all know. Snider hit a mere .184 in his first 25 games and saw his power disappear before being sent down to Las Vegas. Before the calendar could even turn to May, Snider’s one-armed flailing over off-speed pitches earned him a trip back to the minors. Called back up at the beginning of July, Snider’s demotion appeared to have paid off, as he went 20-for-56 (.357) with a .981 OPS in his first 13 games back. His old habits returned, though, and he was eventually sent back down to Vegas to make room for Brett Lawrie after a less-than-patient approach resulted in an ugly 33 strikeouts to just one walk in 24 games.
So, despite strong springs from both contestants, when it came time to choose between giving Eric Thames or Snider the Jays’ everyday left field duties, it should be of no surprise that the victor was Thames, the man who held the job for the entire second half of the 2011 season — even if it’s not considered the best move and fans’ heartstrings were pulling for Snider.
Many people have stressed that Snider has done everything that he possibly can at the Triple-A level and that he has nothing left to prove in the minors based on his numbers. But numbers aren’t what the Jays will be looking for from him at Triple-A and they aren’t what’s going to get him back to the big leagues.
At the plate, Snider has tried to simplify his swing over the last eight-plus months by making various adjustments, like lowering his hands. Now, with his power having appeared to have returned and using his revamped swing, it’s a matter of him getting into a rhythm (primarily against left-handed pitchers) and getting his timing down overall (especially on off-speed pitches), which is something that won’t just come in 48 spring at-bats.
Anthopoulos said that he wants to “avoid the up and down” with Snider this season so that when he is called back up, it’s practically for good. In 2011, Snider initially displayed the changes that he made but couldn’t do so for an extended period of time. By having Snider start the year in the minors and giving Thames the opportunity to boost his value (hint), Snider will be able to just work on staying consistent mechanically and Anthopoulos won’t have to worry about how Snider’s individual performance is affecting the team.
Rather than falsely committing to him once again, the Blue Jays appear to have been honest with Snider and have given him a specific goal. Given the type of work ethic and talent that he has, meeting it shouldn’t be a problem.