By now you’ve heard of the trade that sent Travis Snider to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s a disappointing return, given the upside Snider once held when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him as the 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft. Brad Lincoln might be a solid arm in the back of the bullpen, which is something the Blue Jays desperately need. But there’s no question the Blue Jays sold low on Snider, a player who was once ranked the 6th best prospects in the game according to Baseball America. It became increasingly clear over the past few seasons that the front office had lost faith in Snider, and it’s one of the many reasons he was flipped before the deadline.
But given Travis Snider’s struggles, it brings up a very important question – why didn’t he develop as expected, and is there anything we can learn from the struggles of Travis Snider?
It’s easy to suggest that Travis Snider was rushed through the minors. And there’s no question that he was, reaching AAA by age 20 after a less than dominant performance at AA. However, he held his own in the majors, and unfortunately for Snider that might have been the worst thing that could have happened to him. Because it set up the expectation that he was major league ready. As a 21 year old in his first season he posted a 748 OPS, but this was considered a disappointment given the hype surrounding the former blue chip prospect. Snider would be labelled a bust for putting up numbers similar to these over the next few years, while players like Eric Thames were hailed saviours for posting nearly identical numbers. It’s telling that Eric Thames was able to win the left field job in 2012 thanks to a 769 OPS in 2011, yet Snider was always a question mark despite posting a nearly identical 764 OPS between 2008-2010.
It’s easy to understand why that was the case – Eric Thames was the underdog and Travis Snider was the underachiever. So when Thames puts up similar numbers to Snider, it feels more impressive. But baseball decisions shouldn’t be made because of hype, emotion, or the how good one’s story is. Talent should be the one and only concern for the front office, and over the course of Travis Snider’s career the Blue Jays managed by Truthiness, what they believed to be true in their gut, rather than talent. And while we won’t know how Snider’s career develops as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s a shame that the Jays couldn’t recognize the talent he held.
Time and time again, we were told that Snider’s bat simply wasn’t good enough to play in the majors. This despite the fact that he was playing at a time when most players his age were in the minor leagues, and Snider was performing like a league average player in the majors. It’s almost ironic that Brett Lawrie, in his first full season, is posting similar numbers to Snider did early in his career, and yet nobody questions Lawrie’s ability to hit. Meanwhile Travis Snider was demoted to the minors after struggling for a month and a half, a move that once again slowed his development. Regardless, the front office showed little faith in Snider, demoting him after his struggles rather than allowing the talented outfielder a chance to learn his craft in the majors.
Another issue plaguing Snider was that he was rarely put in a position to succeed. There were times when he’d be playing every other day, or he’d be sheltered from lefties or removed late in the game for defence. While all of these things might have made the team better in the short run, it stunted Snider’s development. As a young player it’s critical to let them play through their struggles, as they’ll never improve if you don’t give them an opportunity to play.
It’s true that Travis Snider never developed into the elite hitter the Blue Jays expected him to be. But if the Jays hope to avoid creating another situation like Snider’s, they’ll have to do a much better job when it comes to developing their prospects. Ensuring that they play at a level of the minors each season is critical to a prospects success. Additionally, the Jays need to make sure that their prospects, once called up, are playing on an every day basis so that management can assess whether their prospect is major league ready. Most importantly, they need to stick with their prospects rather than give up on them after a few bad months. This season the Jays have sent down several players without giving them an opportunity to prove they belong. In order to avoid mishandling a prospects development, they’ll need to stick with that player even if they struggle. What that means is that they haven’t learned anything from the struggles of Travis Snider, as they continue to demote prospect after prospect without giving them an opportunity to prove themselves in the majors.
Travis Snider may be a footnote in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays, but they need look over how he was developed to ensure that future Jays prospects get on the right development path. Because the Jays have an extremely talented farm system now, but it won’t mean anything if they can’t successfully develop their talented prospects.