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June 8, 2008

Prospectus Q&A

Travis Snider

by David Laurila

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The 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Travis Snider is not only the top prospect in the Blue Jays organization, he's one of the best hitting prospects in the game. Rated a five-star prospect by Kevin Goldstein, Snider led the Midwest League in several categories last year as a 19-year-old, including slugging and extra base hits. Built like a tank at 5'11" and 245 pounds, the left-handed-swinging outfielder is currently with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats after beginning the season in High-A.

David Laurila: How would you describe Travis Snider?

Travis Snider: I'd say that I'm intense. Everything I do is pretty intense; I take things very seriously. I'm a very competitive person. At the same time, I like to have fun. You come out here and play 140 games, and spend eight months out of the year with a great group of guys, so you learn how to have fun through that intensity. It was something for me, struggling a lot during the early part of the season, and learning to deal with failure while being a pretty competitive person; I still had to come out here and have fun and try to help us win ballgames as a team. You try to look at those things as a positive and try to build off of them.

DL: You have just over 200 at-bats so far this season. Looking at them, what do they tell you about where you are as a hitter right now?

TS: I don't think they necessarily tell me where I'm at as a hitter. I know what I went through at the beginning of the season, dealing with an injury and some mechanics that were hindered because of my elbow and whatnot, and it's been a real adjustment period for me. It was a good test to see .150 up there on the scoreboard when you're coming up to the plate, knowing that you're striking out more than anyone would like to. I feel that so far, through my first 200 at-bats, I've learned a lot. It's been a very good opportunity for me to deal with some failure--something I really didn't have to do growing up. Even in pro ball, I went through a small slump last year, but nothing really to start off a season like I did here. I'm almost fortunate to have gone through it now, and hopefully it will help me to become a better player.

DL: How would you describe your hitting mechanics?

TS: I'd say they're pretty simple. I've got a relatively smooth swing, good bat speed--things like that, things you've heard before. I try to keep it simple. I watched a lot of hitters growing up, and there are guys like Gary Sheffield that can wave the bat a hundred times before they take a swing, but I'm not doing that. I learned at a young age that for me to be successful I need to keep things simple. At the beginning of the season things got real complex for me. I started overanalyzing things and basically got inside my own head. I couldn't even help myself, and I wouldn't let the hitting coaches help me, because I wouldn't allow it to happen. But getting back to that mechanical swing, when it is sound it's simple, it's smooth, and it's controlled. I think that's the key to being a good hitter--being under control in the batter's box.

DL: Why weren't your coaches getting through to you? Was it a case of you being too strong-willed or stubborn?

TS: No, I wouldn't say that, because I've had a lot of success working with the coaches in this organization. I think that it just got to a point where I was dealing with a lot of failure, and I was allowing that to overtake everything I was doing, whether it was hitting off a tee, doing flips in the cage, or just talking about hitting. All of that stuff was running through my head and I wasn't allowing myself to look at things from a separate perspective. I wasn't allowing myself to realize that it was something everybody goes through and that you have to take it one day, one swing at a time, and that you have to understand that you're going to have your bad rounds in the cage and your bad rounds off the tee. It's a process you have to grind through. That was the biggest thing for me, just grinding through it. Now things have really started to pick up for me at the plate, and I feel comfortable again, which is all that I can ask for.

DL: What does the term "quality plate appearance" mean to you?

TS: I think it's really important, because when you look at the team-scheme of things you can have an at-bat that results in an out, but if it's a productive out, or a productive at-bat, you're helping your team win. The number one thing, obviously, in the minor leagues is that a lot of people get caught up in worrying about stats and things like that. I'm not going to be somebody who says he doesn't worry about stats, but when you can put together a string of quality plate appearances where you're seeing pitches and moving guys over, you're sacrificing yourself for whatever the team needs at that point--those are positive notes for you to build off of as a player. When you put in that team concept, it becomes more important than just one individual.

DL: Earlier this year, Kevin Goldstein wrote about you, "He could use more aggressiveness at the plate, as he currently works himself into poor hitter's counts while letting not perfect--yet perfectly hittable--pitches go by." What are your thoughts on that?

TS: You know, I'd say that at the beginning of this season--and there have been stretches where I've been tentative; I'm a guy who likes to see pitches, especially earlier in the game. That's the type of hitter I am; that's how I like to work my timing and things. But I feel that the last three or four weeks I've become more aggressive in the zone, allowing myself to recognize pitches early in the count. I've never been somebody who has worried about hitting with two strikes, even though I've struck out more times this year than I'd even like to mention. But I still feel comfortable hitting with two strikes, and I'm continuing to improve upon pitch selection early in the count because I don't like to get behind because I'm swinging at bad pitches. I'd rather take a pitch and see things that allow me to get my timing down.

DL: RBI are an example of descriptive stats, which primarily tell you what a player has done. There are also more predictive stats which can help project what a player will do in the future. Do you ever look at your numbers within the context of who you are as a player and what you feel you will be?

TS: I don't let the numbers dictate what I think I can do. Looking back at my career--which admittedly hasn't been a long one--I'd say that I've had a lot of success, but there are obviously areas that need improvement, striking out being the number one thing. Last year was a really good one for me, being my first full season of pro ball: average, RBI, home runs, everything. It was something for me to look back on, and try build upon, but I don't get caught up too much in trying to project based on 500 or 700 or 800 minor league at-bats. That's obviously what people do, and they try to tell what kind of player you're going to be 10 years down the road, but looking at scouting and the draft in general, how many guys have been first-round picks and turned out to be busts? And look at Mike Piazza who was drafted in the 49th round and ended up playing 15-plus years in the big leagues and is probably a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I think that projection only goes so far. It can work for a lot of people, but from my standpoint I try to take one at-bat at a time and look at what I can improve upon from my past successes and failures. But at the same time, I don't get caught up thinking, "I hit .313 in the Midwest League, so I should be able to hit .313 in the Eastern League." I don't base things off of that. I know what type of hitter I am, I know what type of pitchers I've seen, I know what I'm capable of, whether my stats read .150 or .313. It's just a matter of staying out of your own head with the negatives and going out there every day and competing. I feel that I've been able to get through that gray area to where I can just have fun and not worry about the stats.

DL: Who are the toughest pitchers you've faced so far in pro ball?

TS: Number one would be Clayton Kershaw. I have the utmost respect for him as a pitcher. He was in the same draft class as me, and I was fortunate, and unfortunate, to face him six or seven times last year in the Midwest League. He's just a power pitcher from the left side who's not scared. He's 19 years old and you see him out there making his major league debut--he's just the real deal. He's definitely the hardest pitcher I've faced.

DL: Who else stands out?

TS: I saw some good arms down in the fall league. Another guy from my draft class--another high school guy--is Chris Tillman with Baltimore. I got to see him last week, and I saw him last year in the Midwest League, and I faced him all through amateur baseball and summer tournaments like the Area Codes and things like that. Seeing him then, and seeing him now, I think he's become one of the most polished young pitchers I've faced. I'm saying that as a young guy who has seen guys who are 25 and 26, and I've seen 20-year-olds who have thrown better than those guys. I'd say that Kershaw and Tillman are probably the best pitchers: one from the left side, and the other from the right side.

DL: How similar are Kershaw and Tillman on the mound?

TS: I'd say they're the same yet different. They're both aggressive and like to challenge hitters. Tillman, when I faced him in amateur ball, he obviously wasn't throwing every five days so maybe he was throwing harder, but when I faced him a week ago he was very aggressive with his fastball. That's the same as Clayton; they both like to come after you. You can cheat-hack on a fastball and take one back up the middle for a hit, but as soon as you do that those guys will start to work in their secondary pitches. Clayton obviously has a plus curveball, and I didn't even have to see a changeup; not after seeing the hammer he throws. I'd say the same thing about Chris, who has developed a pretty good changeup. For me, it's fun and very competitive to step into the box against those guys, because you know they're going to come after you, and that's something I enjoy. Whether you go 2-for-20 or 10-for-10 against them, it's fun to get in the box because you know they're not going to pitch around you.

DL: When you face them again, will your preparation be any different than it would be for any other pitcher?

TS: No. You get into routines, and once you've seen a guy before you know the way he tries to get you out. Mentally, you maybe prepare a little differently against a right-hander or left-hander. A big thing lefty-on-lefty is the challenge of staying on the ball. Just taking BP against our manager, Gary Cathcart, who is a left-hander, you work on that. But for either of those guys, Kershaw or Tillman, you have to take it as a normal day; you can't put it above everything else, because that's when you start to over-think things. You just go out there and get your routine done, and your preparation in, and see what happens.

DL: If you were to find a magic lamp, and a baseball genie granted you three wishes, what would they be?

TS: Number one would be to stay healthy; that's the most important part of having a successful career. Number two, I'd ask him to change our hitting coach's hair color from red to normal. [Editor's Note: New Hampshire hitting coach Ken Joyce walked by as Snider was answering this question.] I'd hate to be born with red hair. For number three, I'd almost like to say that everyone dreams of being in the big leagues, but I'd like to see some of my buddies that I played with in high school, some guys who are really talented, have the opportunity to share some of the same success from a professional standpoint as I have. I'd like to have them be able to come out here and live the life that I've been blessed to; being able to come out here every day and play the game that I love--even being around guys like red-haired coaches who are pretty good guys and good coaches and part of a great organization. So yeah, I guess that my third wish would be for those guys to be able to come out here and enjoy this the way I do.

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