keyboard_arrow_uptop

The Backstory
Travis Snider was selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft, considered by many pundits and prognosticators as the best pure bat available in that class. After taking $1.7M to turn pro, Snider didn’t waste any time proving the theory that his bat was indeed special, ripping up the rookie Appalachian league with patience, power, and the ability to hit for average. He was clearly a special talent at the plate, with explosive hands that put command over the bat and allowed for plus bat speed. His physical presence was both a turn-on and a turn-off, as his linebacker physique brought near-elite strength to the table and, with his leveraged swing, allowed for plus-plus power projection to enter the player profile. The knock on the body was a lack of premium athleticism, which some believed would hinder him down the line with adjustments, both in the field and at the plate. Snider is built like former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, standing under 6 feet tall and weighing around 240 lbs. I’m not sure why I picked Zach Thomas. I always liked him. Snider’s built like the last guy in the world you would want to wrestle, either for giggles or in a more serious context.

Snider jumped to the full-season Midwest league in 2007, and crushed the ball in an environment where most 19-year-olds aren’t capable of crushing the ball. He was applauded for using an all-fields approach, shortening up the swing to spray to the opposite field, or uncorking a leveraged attack, using his massive pull power to send balls over the right field fence. Scouts loved his swing, suggesting he could hit for both average and power at the highest level, and his overall approach didn’t have many red flags; he did show some swing-and-miss qualities, but given his age and his level, alarms weren’t sounding.

His defensive skill set wasn’t exceptional, but his arm was very strong and he had the necessary athleticism to stay in right field, assuming his focus on conditioning remained determined. His makeup was said to be special, and his work ethic was championed by all those who were able to participate or observe his immediate environment; if you spent any time around Travis Snider, you probably ended up giving his makeup some additional hype. He was that guy. By the end of the season, most national writers had Snider ranked as a top ten prospect in the game, and his ceiling was an All-Star corner with a dual-threat bat capable of both average and power. He might have looked more like a fullback than a baseball player, but his offensive potential made him look like a monster.

2008 was a magical year for Snider, as he rode the minor league train all the way to the top, making three stops in the junior circuit before finally arriving at the major league level at the age of 20. After a short stay in the Florida State League, Snider was bumped to Double-A, where the swing-and-miss aspect of his offensive game was magnified by the level of competition. Observers were still impressed with some of his finer offensive qualities, but his approach was more pull-happy than ever before, and the holes created by this approach lead to some exploitation. In 98 games, Snider whiffed 116 times, but he was also able to take pitchers deep into counts and reach base at a high clip despite not making consistent contact. When he did square the ball, the ball felt the wrath of his power, with 38 extra-base hits, including 17 bombs that were usually of the no-doubt variety. Still, the hitting approach displayed at Double-A forced some to hit pause on his rapid ascension to superstardom, but the Jays clearly had other plans.

After a brief stop in Triple-A, where Snider absolutely raked in a small sample size, he was called to the big stage, a September call-up (08/29) that seemed curious given his level of development and the current state of the team. Regardless, the move looked great, as Snider hit for some average, he showed some pop, he wasn’t brutalized by the strikeout, and he carried himself like a professional; although, the latter was expected given the makeup and maturity displayed thus far in his career. With 24 games of major league experience under his belt, the player of the future was now the player of the present, and Snider was penciled into the lineup going forward.

The rest of the journey is fraught with developmental stagnation, brought upon my injury, performance inconsistency, and developmental inconsistency, as Snider was never given a full season at the major league level to fail and make adjustments. From 2009 to 2011, Snider split time between the majors and the minors, getting demoted when his offensive struggles made him a liability, and returning to the stage after his bat once again proved its worth. At the highest level, Snider’s approach gave big league arms a recipe for his own destruction, as the pull-happy tendencies were still present, and pitchers were able to expand the zone on him with great success. The hit tool was once described as pure and easy, a swing that was short to the ball and explosive through the extension, but now it was receiving only average grades and only causal praise. Snider was struggling to hit for average, often selling out his approach to provide power, the problem being that the power numbers weren’t on par with the expectations of a corner bat. Speaking of…

The Expectations:
Draft placement aside, it became obvious that Snider was a special hitter during his rookie campaign in the Appy league. He was a pure hitter, with the type of hands built for a high average and the type of strength built for substantial in-game power. He had middle-of-the-order potential, a prototypical number three hitter for a championship level squad. His body was anything but prototypical, with almost as much width as actual height, and his defensive skill set wasn’t going to carry him if the bat failed to live up to the hype. But the bat was supposed to live up to the hype, and the prospect pontifications that rattled around the ears in 2008 and 2009 built a profile of a player destined for stardom. I remember seeing Snider in 2008 and thinking that he was a future .300 hitter, the kind that can also bring 25+ home run pop to the table. In other words, I also saw a player destined for stardom.

The Quotes:

“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.” –Baseball America (2008 Prospect Handbook)

“Snider is one of the top hitting prospects in baseball. He has a very patient approach, plus power to all fields, and hits lefties and righties with equal effectiveness–projecting for legitimate MVP-level numbers down the road. He's a hard worker with great makeup who has survived personal adversity and appreciates where he is.”Kevin Goldstein (January 2008)

“He's going to be the third hitter in the Jays' lineup, a perennial All-Star, and an occasional MVP candidate.” –Kevin Goldstein (March 2009)

So What Happened?
First of all, Snider’s accelerated trajectory to the majors put him under the brightest spotlight when he was only 20 years old. By the time he was 21, he had already stumbled at the major league level and found himself back in the minors, saddled with the burden of setback at a very young age. Snider’s offensive profile needed adjustment, especially after he transformed from a balanced offensive threat, with a plus-plus hit tool and plus power, to a hitter that fell into the pull-side power trap and opened himself up to exploitation.

You can assign blame on several fronts, and I can’t speak to which one has more validity over the other. Snider’s overall hitability took steps backward during the developmental process just as his in-game power took steps forward. As is often the case with power hitters, a sacrifice is made with the quality of the hit tool, and as the power booms, the contact rates that once existed have a tendency to fall. Power is derived from the hit tool, so it makes sense that if you tweak your swing to hit the long ball (more loft, more leverage, etc.), the ability to make regular contact suffers. But was this a developmental approach that evolved naturally in Snider’s game, or did the Jays encourage more in-game power at the expense of his ability to hit for a high average? Regardless of what happened, Snider wasn’t the same hitter in 2011 that he was in 2007; the once pure hitter that projected to hit over .300 looked more like a Quad-A hitter destined for a yo-yo career.

Snider is still very young, and still has room for developmental progress in his game. Thanks to a few injuries and a few early hooks from the majors, Snider has yet to play a full season at that level. Several scouts and front office personnel I spoke with still believe in his bat, but the aggressive pull-happy approach isn’t the preferred path to redemption. A return to the easy swing, the one that was compact and short to the ball yet full of explosion at the extension point, is how Snider can climb back into the national spotlight; perhaps a return to the player that Snider was constructed to be from the very beginning. Snider was the type of hitter that could rip both lefties and righties alike, owning the bat speed to square quality velocity and the bat control to stay back and use the opposite field. His natural power will play, though, I doubt he will be the plus-plus game power type that many envisioned. I think he can return to hitting for a higher average, mixing in some doubles and some home runs, but becoming more of a contact hitter than he has shown in recent years.

If Snider can stay healthy and get his reps against major league pitching, he’s going to find a way to hit. The makeup is there to overcome failure, and I think his journey so far is indicative of his personal strength and mental fortitude. The hitter we all labeled as a superstar is unlikely to emerge, but then again, that player might not have existed in the first place. Snider’s best bet is to return to the balanced hitter he was at the beginning of this tale, not the one that lost his way while planning his home run trot.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
wendtm
8/14
His contact rate has been VERY low for a long time. People seem happy to continue to think it will just get better, because he is (was) so young and has so much power. Not. Gonna. Happen.
jparks77
8/14
I don't think anybody thinks his contact rates will improve because he has so much power. As I explained in the article, the focus on in-game power might have been the biggest villan against his contact rates. Altering the hitting approach could allow for more/better contact. He's not a finished product so I think it's entirely possible that he improves as a hitter at the major league level. The industry sources I spoke with seemed to agree with that conclusion.
wendtm
8/14
Sure, I understand, but how often do contact rates improve at the highest level? Maybe it's common enough, I don't know. I know it's not like he has some crazy long, loopy swing that's easily exploited by major league pitchers, etc., but what I meant was that it seems to me (and I could be wrong) that much of the "expectation" that he would improve derives from the fact that IF he did, wow, he'd be a terrific hitter. That is - wishing rather than analyzing. Put it this way: how often do top prospects with super low contact rates meaningfully improve that part of their game?
jparks77
8/14
I think it depends on the player, their developmental history, and the reasons behind the poor contact rates. I don't think Snider is going to emerge as a batting champion, but I do think he has the room to improve. His swing is capable of making [more] consistent contact. I think he needs reps at the major league level, even if the results aren't promising over a full season's worth of at-bats. When you're only given a short window for success, its hard not to press when things don't go as planned. I think we will know more about Snider the hitter if he's given 500 ABs at the major league level to fail/make adjustments/etc.
jmoultz
8/14
I did some very quick and dirty research on 10 outfielders off the top of my head who I thought had more or less improved their hitting since first coming up. Without cherry picking, here are the ones I looked at: (Player then contact rates by year starting with their first exposure to the majors in a season with 150+ ABs) 1. J Upton ('08=66%, 74, 69, 79, 76) 2. M Kemp ('06=66%, 77, 75, 77, 72, 74, 76) 3. BJ Upton (’04=71%, 77, 68, 75, 73, 69, 71, 71) 4. C Young (‘07=75%, 74, 69, 75, 75, 75) 5. C Granderson (‘05=73%, 71, 77, 80, 78, 75, 71, 68) 6. A McCutchen (‘09=81%, 84, 78, 80) 7. C Gonzalez (‘08=73%, 75, 77, 78, 78) 8. R Braun (‘07=75%, 79, 81, 83, 83, 77) 9. J Hamilton (‘07=78%, 80, 76, 82, 81, 74) 10. T Snider (‘09=68%, 73, 70, 73) There are definitely some cases here that support the theory that contact rate can be improved with experience but I was surprised to see it fluctuate so much for many on the list. Obviously we can’t draw conclusions from this but I think the data is, at least, directional. There are several low-average whipping boys on the list that I think illustrate how much Snider needs to improve to be considered a “higher average guy” again, but at least it’s clear he’s not the Adam Dunn of contact. A 73% contact rate for this season is still low even with only 73 ABs (SSS, of course) under his belt so far, but if you look at the weekly trends, they portend he might be regaining some of that confidence the Professor points out (even if there’s a little help moving from TOR to PIT): week of 7/15=57%, 65, 71, 86, 100. We shall see…
wendtm
8/14
BTW, good series, good article.
jparks77
8/14
Thanks. I appreciate it. Good discussion.
zasxcdfv
8/14
I really, really like the "Bring Me the Head..." series. Always interesting and informative. Thanks!
maxjusttyped
8/14
Thoroughly enjoying this series so far. As a White Sox fan, I'd love for Gordon Beckham to be next.
jalee121
8/14
I second this request.
captnamerca
8/14
Thirded. Off with his head.
JoshuaGB
8/14
I also immediately thought of Beckham -- seems like the same logic we've been using with Beckham (that he just needs consistent reps at the big league level). But, Beckham's poor performance makes me skeptical of Snider coming around (although, as an owner of both in a keeper league, I'm holding out hope).
lesmash
8/14
There are a few subtle things to like about Gordon Beckham. Well, 'like' is maybe a strong word, but a few reasons to think his numbers are going to get a bit better. First, his K rate has dropped from 19.9% in 2011 to 16.1% in 2012; second, he's already surpassed his HR total from 2011 and he has another month and a half to keep adding to that; and third, his BABIP of 0.248 is extremely low, so you could argue that he's due for some better luck in that department. I would love to see an article on Beckham, too. I must be one of the stubborn ones who has not totally given up on him yet. He's turning 26 in 2 days, so I say his birthday gets celebrated with an article asking for his head.
jparks77
8/14
I'm going to need more than two days. I'm hitting the phones about Beckham, but I don't want to throw something together on the quick. I want it to be as detailed and accurate as possible. I've already received a few texts about his swing and his ability to hit quality fastballs. I'll have the article ready to go by next Tuesday.
jparks77
8/14
I'm working on it now. It might take a few days. I like to get quotes/thoughts from guys who scouted the player in the minors, so sometimes it takes time to track those sources down. He's a good candidate for the article series. I've seen him a bunch and I thought he would hit at the highest level, at least for batting average and a bucket of doubles. He's been very bad.
jrmayne
8/14
The subhead on the front page starts "Toronto's Travis Snider," which perhaps could be read, "The forgotten Travis Snider."
erhardt
8/14
Hah. Fixed.
Rockshu
8/14
I wish him all the success in Pittsburgh but it stills tears at my heartstrings that we traded him for a reliever. That's so anti-Anthopolous. In order of blame for what happened, first and foremost it's JP Ricciardi for promoting him to show off for the fanbase in an attempt to save his job. "Look at what I got you! The farm is just fine! My drafts are producing!" Second, and just behind Ricciardi, is Cito Gaston, whose policy of LOLROOKIES damned Snider right from the start. He barely got in the lineup -- when he did it was almost always the 9 hole, and if he didn't get 2 or 3 hits in his game, he was on the bench for another couple days afterwards. Speaking of Snider's maturity and character, despite all that crap, on "Cito Gaston Appreciation Night", he was the only one to wear a fake mustache the entire game in his honor. Third on the blame list is Alex Anthopolous, for not seeing the mistake of his predecessor and giving Snider a fair opportunity. He dicked him around just as much, handing the left field job to Eric-freaking-Thames. Yes, I'm bitter, and I likely will continue to be for a long, long time.
jparks77
8/14
I would be bitter as well. He did have a few minor injuries, but the lack of consistent developmental time at the major league level is a big part of the problem. When you factor in the approach and the pressure to produce, the recipe makes a cake that just sucks to eat.
Rockshu
8/14
The Tao of Stieb wrote an article a couple of days before he got called up saying how if the Blue Jays weren't going to use Snider, they should trade him, as he deserved better than this organization. While I will always wish the team had given him at least the rest of this season to figure things out, I'd much rather see him in Pittsburgh's colors than in Las Vegas'. It had got to the point of cruelty, and when you care so much about a player, it hurts to see them abused like he was. I hope he rediscovers some of the potential that made him a top 10 prospect in all of baseball, even if it's not for the blue and white.
serviceoutrage
8/14
Is it really that anti-Anthopolous? The man traded Napoli for a reliever. Or are we just erasing the moves that don't work out in our minds?
jfhilton
8/14
I don't think it is fair the pound on Anthopoulos for the way Snider was handled. First, there is very little evidence at the current time that Snider is going to be anything better than an average major league hitter. At some point, you have to stop blaming the manager, the hitting coach, and the GM and just go out and hit. You should never cry over the loss of replacement-level talent that may have the potential to reach MLB average talent. Second, the fact that they chose Eric Thames over Snider suggests to me that there is a major problem with Snider's approach that, despite coaching, he is reluctant/refusing to make the necessary change to succeed. Third, the Jays have a ton of outfielder prospects coming up but far fewer legitimate bullpen prospects. If you keep Snider, what you are saying is that he is potentially a better player than Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose, and Jake Marisnek. I'm not sure that is true and you have to weed out this surplus somehow. Lincoln is potentially a significant arm in the bullpen that they desperately need. In addition, it is possible that we are overvaluing Snider. MLB GM's aren't idiots and despite this fact, AA has worked some maginificent trades so far. If all he could get for Snider was a reliever, then maybe this is all Snider was worth.
SGreenwell
8/15
Question though - What is a proper "bullpen prospect"? I think it's KG who said that there are closer-level prospects and everyone else, and the "everyone else" can be veterans or prospect starters that you convert, or even projects like turning a catcher or shortstop with a great arm into a RP. I think it was either KLaw or KG who only had one relief pitcher - Addison Reed - in their preseason Top 100, which I think gives you an idea of the overall value of them. If I was the Jays, I would have rather just rolled the dice and given Snider 500 ABs in a single season to sink or swim, rather than moving him for a relief arm.
hotstatrat
8/15
Agreed. There are plenty of players who were just as rushed as Snider and have done fine, there are players who were sent back down to the minors and returned much better players, and there are many players who were kept in the Majors for several years, but still never reached their perceived potential. Are there any good studies out there that say what is the best way to handle a good hitting prospect? No doubt it is an individual thing.
woodruff11
8/14
I don't think we should underestimate the impact that his mustache had on his development. There is no way he could look in the mirror and retain any confidence.
jparks77
8/14
Yeah, but he was a boss on the junior high dance circuit.
BeplerP
8/14
Jason: What your analysis lacks is the comps- who is Snider "like"? Is there anything out there in history to show that someone with his herky-jerky development path (I really blame Blue Jays management for this- what were they thinking?) eventually righted his ship? I'm not thinking of stars- I'm thinking of guys who achieved a reasonable career in the majors after experiences like Snider's? Help me out here.
jparks77
8/14
The point of the piece was to focus on Snider, so that's why I didn't bring examples of other players into the equation. Happy to address that here, though. Yes; I can think of several. The one that sticks with me is Nelson Cruz. He was up and down for years before getting 500+ ABs in one season. (He did get 300+ ABs in 2007, and the results were less than promising) He really took off after he made an adjustment in Triple-A which allowed him to see the ball better and thus hit the ball better (and more consistently). At the time, it was frustrating because fans of the team wanted to see Cruz given the opportunity to prove himself in a larger sample. Cruz's swing did feature a fair amount of miss in it, and his low contact rates threatened his power utility against major league pitching. After the adjustment and the opportunity at the major league level, Cruz developed into a quality power threat, despite some swing and miss in his game.
beeker99
8/14
I pose this as a hypothetical, because I don't think Snider should be sent back to AAA. Let's say, however, that he was to follow the N. Cruz path and not make the majors full-time for good until his late 20s. This presumes that he returns to AAA and makes that final adjustment where everything clicks. Do you think that getting him out of the hitter's haven that is Las Vegas (and the PCL), and into Indianapolis (I have no idea how it plays) (and the IL, which I know is more of a neutral/pitcher's environment, depending on the stadium) would help him in such a situation? It's harder to hit home runs in the IL than in the PCL . . . and in Pittsburgh, too, versus Toronto.
rawagman
8/15
Just my two cents, but another yo-yo power comp that Snider has often reminded me of is Carlos Pena. YMMV.
mrenick
8/14
So, who do you think is more likely to become a solid regular, Snider or Smoak? From reading both articles it sounds like you've got a bit more confidence in Snider. Is that a correct assessment?
jparks77
8/14
Yep. I like Snider's chances more than Smoak's. Both players need to make adjustments, and that's much easier said than done, but I like Snider's swing more and I think he has the necessary intangibles to push beyond the failures.
Timcarvin
8/14
I too always liked Zach Thomas for an unexplainable reason.
jparks77
8/14
He had #want and instincts, but lacked a neck. I value this.
BarryR
8/16
Great series, Jason. Well written, well researched, non-dogmatic analysis. I look forward to more of these. I also enjoy your willingness, even enthusiasm, to engage in a dialogue with posters, which is quite rare and highly appreciated by all of us. Kudos.