July 18, 2012
The Platoon Advantage
The 24-Year-Old Masher Who Can't Get A Call-Up
As you’ve probably seen, the Blue Jays got some tough (and slightly weird) news on Monday night, when Jose Bautista felt some pretty powerful discomfort in his wrist after crushing a long foul ball, and had to leave the game. X-rays and an MRI all came back fine, but it nonetheless worried the Blue Jays enough that they placed him on the DL Tuesday. He’s out until at least August, meaning that Bautista—who had played in each of the Jays’ first 90 games—will be limited to no more than the 149 he played last year.
It’s a huge and potentially fatal blow to a team whose playoff chances were mostly wishes and dreams anyway, but these kinds of unfortunate events invariably mean a great opportunity for somebody. In this case, that somebody is Anthony Gose, a not-yet-22-year-old outfielder who is one of the fastest players in pro ball (and who was acquired from the Astros in 2010 in a trade for Brett Wallace, essentially his antithesis). He’s perhaps the fourth-best prospect in a very deep farm system, ranking 68th in Kevin Goldstein’s preseason top 100.
There’s one way to look at it—okay, actually, there are a lot of ways—in which this looks like a really bad idea. Gose has a pretty, leadoff-hitterish batting line at Triple-A (.292/.375/.432 in 436 PA, with 10 triples and 29 steals in 39 tries). But that was put up in Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League, where the entire team is hitting a hilarious .305/.377/.468. I suppose you might argue that the likes of Yan Gomes (.979 OPS in Vegas) and Adam Lind (1.112 in his 32 games down there, with a .392 batting average) are really just that awesome, but if not, Gose has actually been subpar at Triple-A, despite his .375 BABIP. He’s coming off a year in which he batted .253 with 154 strikeouts in 137 games in Double-A, and even in the PCL, he’s struck out more than once per game. He could be a star centerfielder in a couple years, but from everything we know now, it seems unlikely that he’s ready to contribute anything of value right now. He’s also not likely to take a lot of time away from Colby Rasmus in center, so his defense, probably Gose’s best current asset, is unlikely to be fully utilized.
The decision to call up Gose is a strange one, made even stranger by the fact that the Jays had another choice on the Vegas roster, one who (as a slugging corner outfielder) is a much more natural replacement for Bautista, and one who is considerably more seasoned and having a significantly better 2012 than Gose offensively. But alas, Travis Snider was snubbed by the Blue Jays again. (Some fans and writers have just about had it with this.)
Snider is a bit like struggling independent league pitcher Scott Kazmir, in that it’s easy to forget—to the point of losing the ability to even believe—how young he still is. After all, he made his debut four years ago next month. He was making top prospect lists (number 40, 7 and 5 on ours) from 2007 through 2009, during all of which time current television superstars Nomar Garciaparra, Aaron Boone and Kevin Millar were still active baseball players. So it’s almost impossible to imagine that Snider enters this morning at 24 years, 167 days old, but that’s where he is. He’s two full years younger than Mark Trumbo and Carlos Santana, a year behind Pedro Alvarez. He’s still a young guy.
And all he does in the minors is rake. In 787 PA in Triple-A—most of them in 2011 and ‘12—he has hit .329/.409/.550. The same Vegas-related caveats discussed with regard to Gose above apply to Snider’s numbers, of course, and maybe that keeps him from projecting as a star, but the numbers are still well above the norm. When you consider his still-young age and former top-prospect status, one would think that Snider would be the type of guy a team would want to give every possible chance to succeed, certainly over the likes of Rajai Davis and Eric Thames. Instead, he spent most of the past four years bouncing back and forth between Toronto and Las Vegas, losing playing time to Davis or Thames (or players much like them) at the first sign of a struggle.