Jays Journal Features: Travis Snider Returns
By Mat Germain
If you’re opinion is anywhere close to mine, you’re pulling with all of your mind for Travis Snider to break out and prove once and for all that he can slide into the lineup, hit 25 HRs or more a season and give you above average stats across the board. That’s where I believe most Jays fans stand, and as they – and fellow Jays players – watched him make his return to the lineup against the Red Sox, cheers, welcoming Tweets, and high-fives became the norm throughout the game as everyone seems to be pulling for the kid they used to call “The Franchise”.
I’d like to take you all back to 2007, when Travis Snider was beginning the high ride towards the majors. Baseball America’s Matt Eddy ranked him as the 2nd best Jays prospect that year, behind only Adam Lind and just ahead of Ricky Romero. Snider was coming off a .325/.412/.567 year at the rookie level where he hit 24 extra base hits (11 HRs) in only 194 ABs. Within that article, Eddy proclaimed correctly that:
"He has the tools and desire to become an impact corner outfielder in the majors, and his bat should allow him to move more quickly than most high schoolers."
And that’s exactly what Snider did. In 2008, Eddy ranked him 1st in the Jays prospect list, ahead of Brett Cecil (2), Kevin Ahrens (3), J.P. Arencibia (4), and Ricky Romero (5) who was coming off an awful season in AA. That’s what 58 extra base hits in 457 ABs gets you, particularly when you join it with a .313/.377/.525 line as a 19 year old in LoA. If we compare it to today’s prospects, his stats look awfully familiar to Jake Marisnick’s, and we all know how highly touted he is. As a 20 year old, 1 year older than Snider was at the same level, Marisnick managed a .320/.392/.492 line with 10 fewer extra base hits (48 in 462 ABs) than Snider managed in less ABs.
So it’s understandable that the hype surrounding Snider was real when he arrived in Toronto, as he was really the only bright shining star of the entire system, unlike Marisnick who is joined by many highly ranked and touted prospects. I’d also like to add here that we should really temper expectations when it comes to Marisnick for the same reasons that expectations should have been tempered when Snider arrived. For the end statement of his analysis that year, Eddy stated that:
"Snider has exceeded expectations thus far, and those expectations were high to begin with. He could move more quickly now that he has been exposed to the AFL and has put the MWL, the toughest hitting environment he’ll encounter, behind him. Ticketed for high Class A Dunedin in 2008, he’ll eventually bat in the middle of Toronto’s order and has a big league ETA of 2010."
And Eddy was right, sort of. Sure, Snider got an itty-bitty amount of time in HiA, 61 ABs to be exact, before being pushed to AA, then AAA, and then the majors. Excuse me? Did I just read that right? I do remember watching it happen in real life, but sometimes, it isn’t until you put it all down on paper that you see just how ridiculous that is. From HiA to the majors, and doing well at each level, who would have thought it possible? And how many times do we see that kind of progression in baseball? Maybe for a reliever or College pitcher or hitter, but we’re talking about a kid drafted out of high school with only 2 seasons of pro ball under his belt. Yikes!
Yet, over those 4 levels, Snider hit .279, .262, .344, and finally .301 in the majors. He did so while clobbering 37 doubles and 25 HRs, driving in 104 RBI, and walking 66 times. Snider, a.k.a The Franchise, had arrived, and all eyes were fixed on him coming into the 2009 season, because he was the shining light of the future for this franchise.
I’m still not certain whether it was the pressure, the scouting that was done on him by other clubs, or the fact that he was thrown to the bottom of the lineup by Cito Gaston, but something broke during the start of that 2009 season. Snider was no longer confident at the plate, was chasing too many pitches while trying to do too much all at once, and he dug a hole so deep that he couldn’t get out of it. He began the year hitting .258/.324/.484 with 3 HRs in April, then had a horrible May, managing only a .216/.237/.243 line with no HRs. He returned a bit to form at the end of the season, however, hitting .260/.355/.442 in September/October, but was never really brought back up to the top of the lineup by Gaston.
In 241 ABs that season, Snider hit out of the 9 hole 126 times, and 8th 66 times. To say that it may be a leading reason for his struggles is an understatement. After all, if the manager doesn’t have faith in the player that was only 21 years old at the time, why would the 21 year old have confidence in himself? Not only did Snider get fewer ABs due to hitting so late in the lineup, but he was pitched to differently than he would have been had he hit 2nd or even 7th in the lineup. Imagine if Colby Rasmus, who was struggling as Snider had been earlier this year, had been left in the lower parts of the lineup and never brought up to hit 2nd in the lineup. Who he still be struggling? It’s possible.
I firmly believe that this led to Snider changing his demeanour, his approach at the plate, and his overall disposition. He lost his swagger, became doubtful, and started to wonder whether or not he had what it took to be a middle of the lineup bat.
The 2010 season sort of proves my point. During that season, when hitting 2nd in the lineup, Snider hit .400 over the few (10) ABs he got there. While hitting 7th, he hit .400 over more ABs (25). Yet, instead of keeping him there, Gaston had Snider hitting 8th (.150 in 60 ABs), 9th (.287 in 115 ABs). To his credit, Gaston did try Snider at leadoff, where he hit .230 in 87 ABs, but we ALL know Snider is no lead off guy. The point had to be for him to learn to take more pitches, but still, 2nd in the lineup would have done the same without putting him in an uncomfortable position.
By the time 2011 came around and leadership changed, Snider was already a changed player. He had developed into quite a better defender in the OF than he ever had been in the minors, and was starting to use his speed a little more on the base paths. But, it was really a lost season for the youngster who never recovered from the frustration of the 2010 season and the injuries that kept taking ABs and experience away from him at what seemed to be at the worst times.
So here we are, in 2012. Snider begins the year in AAA because Eric Thames had seized the opportunity he got when Snider had become injured and ineffective in 2011. He starts the year off great in AAA, only to get injured, again, when his number may have come up. A .400/.477/693 April was therefore all for naught since he spent the majority of May on the DL. But finally, after waiting a very long time for his number to be called, and after watching Thames return to AAA and Anthony Gose get the call ahead of him when Jose Bautista went down, Snider heard his number being called up to the majors once again.
Travis Snider, no longer a kid, matured with the tools and experience to make an impact in the majors, retuned to the Blue Jays lineup and was a sight to see while bouncing around in the outfield and having long and well executed ABs. With renewed confidence, health, and a determined and yet very positive attitude, Snider looks poised to grab a hold of an OF spot in Toronto and to dare others in the system to try to grab it from him.
If Travis Snider is able to make a successful, long lasting, and powerful return to Toronto and bring his game to the level it should be at – all star calibre – then Jays fans and players alike are in for a hell of a treat. Because an OF filled with talents like Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, and Travis Snider can only mean great things for where this franchise is headed. Although he’ll likely never regain the “Franchise” nickname, thankfully so, Snider will get a shot to prove himself for the remainder of 2012. If he falters, he will break all Jays fans hearts who are pulling for him every step of the way. But if he succeeds, it could very well change the fate of the playoff chances of this team, after what has been a see-saw like up-and-down 1st half of the season.
Good luck Travis Snider. We’re elated that you’re getting another shot, and we certainly hope it’s the last shot you need!