Nothing quite captures the imagination of baseball fans like the rise of a top prospect through the minor league system and (hopefully) into the major leagues. There is nothing like the intoxicating allure of a fresh faced and well hyped youngster to get the old proverbial baseball juices flowing. For the Toronto Blue Jays faithful the name Travis Snider is now firmly synonymous with a word Blue Jays fans have been lacking as of late, hope. Baseball America named him the Jays top prospect in 2009 and he has basically been labelled as a “can’t miss” hitting prospect. With so much invested in him emotionally already and expectations so high, will we all be left well, disappointed at what he becomes? Think of poor Jose Cruz Jr.
Travis Snider was drafted in the 1st round (14th overall) in the 2006 draft in a year that saw one of the premier arms Tim Lincecum go #10 to San Fran and Joba Chamberlain in the compensatory stages of the 1st round. Snider was a bit of a rarity for the Jays up to this point in the fact that he was drafted out of high school. Normally a no-no for the Moneyball conscientious JP Ricciardi led Toronto Blue Jays front office. Snider wasted no time in justifying the pick as he absolutely destroyed rookie ball 325/412/567 including 11 HRs in only 194 at-bats.
The next year Snider played 118 games in Class “A” Lansing and continued to flash a very impressive bat this time posting a slash line of 313/377/525 again showing solid power with 16 HRs in 457 at-bats, good for a very solid .393 wOBA. A few red flags were raised as Snider showed less than optimal patience at the plate as he posted a 28.2% K rate as well as a low(ish) 9.7% BB rate. Still hard to argue with a kid that just posted back to back .200+ ISO seasons in his first two professional seasons directly out of high school.
In 2008 Snider had a meteoric rise through the ranks as he started the year in “A” ball and made it all the way to big leagues by season’s end. His stats per league played in for 2008:
“A” – 279/333/557, .403 wOBA, 7.6% BB rate
“AA” – 262/357/461, .366 wOBA, 12.6% BB rate
“AAA” – 344/386/516, .399 wOBA, 5.9% BB rate.
All in all very these are very impressive numbers for a kid his age ascending the minor leagues in this fashion but they were not without a few warts. Namely, Snider was basically swinging at everything as he showed very little in the way of plate discipline. Snider made a brief cameo in the show for the Blue Jays and played in 24 games and did not look totally out of place, posting a .345 wOBA but again showing zero patience with a 6.4% BB rate and a fairly low contact rate of around 70%.
Expectations were sky high for “Lunch bucket” (Snider’s nickname) but unfortunately for the kid, things did not go too smoothly. While the Jays were playing well above their heads, Snider was struggling miserably and was sent down on May 22nd as he basically looked lost at the plate. To his credit, Snider didn’t sulk and whine while he was in “AAA” Las Vegas, in fact his bat caught fire and he absolutely dominated the league posting a 337/431/663 slash line and even showed an increased strike zone awareness with a solid 13.8% BB rate. He was aided by a .395 BABIP but I am nitpicking here, the kid was on fire and got the call-up in mid August. Since his return, Snider has basically been swinging at everything (in 100 ABs since his return, a staggering 47% K rate – yikes!) as Marc Hulet at FanGraphs points out here.
Defensively Travis Snider looks like a future DH in the making as his UZR in 86 career MLB games sits at a relatively poor -10.3, Reed Johnson he is not. There is some talk that the Jays may try to convert Snider into a first-basemen where his lack of range and poor arm could be better hidden, but the jury is still out whether or not he could even be a league average first-basemen.
The comparisons are pouring in as you would expect and the name that is brought up the most when people mention Snider is none other than JP’s best bud OF/DH Adam Dunn. I like the comparison for the power bat, no defence and high K-rate, but Adam Dunn also walks at an absurd clip (17.1% career BB rate). If Snider became Adam Dunn Blue Jays fans should rejoice and although there are similarities to their games I think a more valid comparison would be a left-handed version of Jason Bay (career 12.9% BB rate, 27% K rate), assuming Snider can increase his BB rate over the next 4-5 seasons.
The future is still bright for Travis Snider but I think some of the lustre has come off as he is turning into a real player to Blue Jays fans and not the mystical fantasy known as “prospect”. Snider is under team control for many more years and will provide value with his bat well beyond his actual salary regardless of defence/position. But it will be up to Snider to iron out the kinks in his game, again like Aaron Hill, command of the strike zone. If he does that I think the sky is the limit for this kid, if he doesn’t he will be just like Jose Cruz Jr – loved one minute and gone the next.