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.
As is the case with every baseball decision, of course, we have imperfect information. Snider had a wrist injury earlier this season, and could still be struggling a bit with that. It could be that the Jays have finally seen the error of their ways, and that keeping Snider down all season rather than calling him up for the two to three fleeting weeks for which Bautista could be absent is the first thing they’ve done to help Snider’s development in four years. Or, it could be that the Blue Jays still seriously consider themselves competitors; they’re frequently mentioned as buyers in trade rumors, and at two games out of a Wild Card spot, it’s hard to blame them (though they’ve got six teams to catch and pass, and the odds are very long). While at first glance, Snider—who could fill in more palatably for Bautista in right and toward the middle of the lineup, at least against righties—would seem to give them the better shot at contending, but Gose’s speed and defense give him more flexibility as a bench player, and if they plan to primarily rely on other outfielders to start (as they did on Tuesday, though Gose pinch-hit for Ben Francisco in the seventh and went 1-for-2), Gose probably makes more sense. And they might figure that, ready or not, two to three weeks in the big leagues can’t hurt Gose’s development too much. Or they could have scouts who have identified a real weakness in Snider’s approach at the plate; his scattered 877 PA don’t provide us with nearly enough information to write him off (and he hasn’t even been that bad, overall, with a 93 OPS+), but they’ve got professionals whose job it is to look more deeply than we’re able to.
But here’s the thing: whatever the reason for it (with the possible exception of the injury discussed just above), and regardless of whether or not it’s justified, it seems to me that if Snider isn’t going to be called up now, he should be moved as soon as possible. He’s shown that he deserves an extended, sink-or-swim shot in the big leagues. He’s never gotten anything like that in Toronto, and one has to assume that there are other teams who would still be more than willing to give him that chance. (As a Twins fan, I know one team that I’d like to see give him a shot after Denard Span is inevitably moved.) Given his still-young age, Triple-A performance, and prospect history, it seems likely that the Jays could get a decent return for him, bringing back intriguing-at-least pieces who the Blue Jays presumably would be willing to give a chance to succeed. And if they are convinced that there are significant problems with Snider’s swing or approach, what would they have to lose? If you’re not going to turn to your former top prospect and best minor-league hitter when your best major-league hitter goes down at essentially the same position, why have that former top prospect around at all? Get what you can for him, set him free, and move on.
Travis Snider might have all kinds of holes in his game, and maybe they’ll never be closed. But he’s got a really sweet swing, an awesome Twitter handle, and a great Baseball Prospectus profile photo, and he deserves a shot. And if it’s time for the Anthony Gose Era to begin (however temporarily) in Toronto, it’s time for the Travis Snider Era to get a reboot somewhere else.