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The Great Big 2012 Blue Jays Forecast Series, Part 8: Travis Snider

With spring training officially just under a month away, we continue with a series of projections on what the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays might look like. Each day (don’t hold me to this), I will profile a 2012 Blue Jays starter, closing with a set of numbers based on my (usually positive) expectations. Today, we’ll focus on the underdog in the competition in left field heading into the 2012 season, Travis Snider.

If Eric Thames’ 2011 season was about getting the opportunity and running with it, I suppose it’s only fair to say that Travis Snider’s season was about dropping the ball and failing to find it afterwards. 2011 was supposed to be different for Snider, after a 2010 season that was sidelined by injury. There was a new manager in town, and the team was committed to let him man left field coming out of spring training. Yet, just 25 games into another slow start, the Blue Jays had decided that it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the team and player to let Snider keep his roster spot, after all.

In all fairness, it’s not as though Snider had given the Blue Jays much of a reason to keep him there to begin with. Eric Thames was tearing up AAA to start the season, while Snider was mired in a .184/.276/.264 slump that had him looking totally lost at the plate. Even in a 5-game hitting streak (all singles), the team saw something alarming in his approach, and so Snider was exiled to AAA to work on fixing his mechanics. At the time of the move, I felt fairly strongly that it was unfair to Snider that the team had decided to once again yo-yo him back and forth, never really allowing Snider much time to settle into a rhythm. He was having a slow start, sure, but it’s not like we haven’t seen it before. Travis came out of the gate the same way in the previous season: entering May 1, 2010, he was posting an abysmal .149 average with a .592 OPS. Things changed quickly, however, and by May 14th, Snider had brought his average up to .241, with a .804 OPS.

It was then that he was sidelined by a strained wrist, effectively cutting his season until July. Snider wound up finishing ’10 with a bang, hitting .387/.452 over his last 7 games with 4 homers, so it’s not like his year was totally lacking in positives, even if I’d probably call it was somewhat of a lost season. The important thing was that we got a glimpse of what he could do then, and that’s in part what was upsetting about his demotion in 2011, slow start be damned.

Nonetheless, Snider went back to AAA Las Vegas, terrorized the league (although with a few minor struggles) over 277 PA as he’d done before, and was declared fixed and ready to return by the middle of summer. No problem, right? You wouldn’t think so after the first 9 games upon Snider’s return in July, where he’d hit .421 with 8 doubles in that span. He’d brought his OPS up to .719 from .540, too; but just as we thought we’d begun to see Snider make the development that he was seemingly ready to make back in ’10, all of a sudden, the power disappeared. Snider hit just 2 doubles and one home run over the last 15 games, hitting a miserable .161 in that span without drawing a single walk. Just 11 games after his 2nd demotion of the 2011 season, his season was declared over with tendinitis  in his wrist.

So you can look at Snider’s age 22 and 23 seasons in a couple of ways. One, you could say he had 521 PA and didn’t do much with it. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to make the case that Snider has been a bust at the MLB level so far. If you look at it that way, it’s not hard at all to see why Alex Anthopoulos thinks that Thames has a “leg up” on Snider for the job – let Snider start in AAA, give Thames the job, and see how things pan out.

On the flip side, you could also get selective with the dates of his successes, look at his slow starts and wrist injuries, and say that he’s never been given an extended look. Here are the facts: Snider posted .748 and .767 OPS seasons as a 21 and 22 year old. He’s still only 23, over a year younger than Eric Thames, whose .769 OPS in his age-24 2011 was accumulated over 393 PA – more looks than Snider had ever been given in any of his seasons thus far. Neither hits lefties, and neither draw very many walks, but Snider is rated a plus defender in left with an average arm. The big knock against Snider is that he strikes out a whole lot more, but until this season, he has always shown good home run power – not just good doubles power, but the head-turning, upper deck power that had him rated the a top-10 prospect in the big leagues back by just a few years ago…when he was 20 years old.

So maybe there’s a good reason for the competition after all. The most important of which, as I mentioned in the Eric Thame piece, is the upside factor: Thames might wind up being pretty good, but Snider has the potential to be great. No, potential doesn’t really do much for your team until it’s realized, but I count myself on the high-upside…side of the coin on this one. Travis Snider has been around for so long, that it’s sometimes easy to forget just how young he is, and how sometimes top prospects really seem to need some time to struggle and work things out. Snider wouldn’t be the only former-top prospect in the outfield needing a chance to prove himself either – and with the team not quite ready to be competing for a playoff spot, I just don’t see why you wouldn’t go with the higher-ceiling guy and at least really see if he’d sink or swim.

Then again, I’ve always been a Snider believer/apologist, so I’m pretty biased on the matter. I’m often reminded of Cameron Maybin when I talk about Snider; similarly rushed to the majors at a very young age, Maybin was a “bust” for years, never receiving more than 322PA in each of his first 4 years. It took him getting traded twice before he found a Padres with nothing to lose who was willing to let him play, and while he struggled early on, Maybin wound up putting together a 9 HR, 40 SB season worth 4.7 WAR – and he did it at just age 24. I’m not exactly saying that Snider is about to get there, but I don’t think he’ll be given the same playing time and opportunity that the Padres afforded Maybin either. Different team, different goals.

This is getting too long, isn’t it? Here’s what I think Snider is capable of in about half a season’s worth of work:

300 PA, .265/.315/.450, 9 HR, 5 SB

Not unlike Thames, I think Snider can be solid, if not spectacular if given the playing time; a 20-10 full season isn’t totally out of the question, given his career pace so far. The main questions are a) if he can ever get off to a good start? and b) if the Blue Jays will keep him there even with a slow start? Spring training will certainly tell us a lot about what both players have been up to, but going into it, I think Snider is going to have to have a monster spring to earn this job.

To be honest, I think that while Snider will fulfill his potential one of these years, but I don’t think he’ll do it with the Blue Jays. It doesn’t sound like Alex Anthopoulos has same the conviction when talking about Snider, the same way he has confidence in the other young guys like Rasmus, Alvarez, etc. The team has said Snider is a big part of the future, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him moved for a starter at some point.

So, who does everyone like in left field? Are you on Team Thames, or Team Snider? Should the team move one of them? I’d love to hear some of your comments on this one.

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Previous 2012 Blue Jays forecasts:

Part 1: J.P. Arencibia - 510 PA, .255/.315/.450, 26 HR
Part 2: Adam Lind – 600 PA, .260/.320/.445, 26 HR
Part 3: Kelly Johnson – 580 PA, .270/.350/.430, 16 HR, 11 SB
Part 4: Brett Lawrie – 610 PA, .280/.340/.490, 20 HR, 22 SB
Part 5: Yunel Escobar – 605 PA, .285/.365/.405, 10 HR, 5 SB
Part 6: Edwin Encarnacion – 580PA, .270/.330/.465, 23 HR, 6 SB
Part 7: Eric Thames – 300 PA, .270/.315/.455, 8 HR, 3 SB