Travis Snider may still be a 24-year old and a young buck by major league standards, but he’s just about been through all the ups and downs that can come with this game.
He’s been through the hype that comes with being a top prospect. He’s been successful at making a first impression. He’s failed at holding a job that should’ve been his, and he’s arguably been mis-managed. He’s been through injuries that have taken opportunities away just as it looked like he was close, and last year, he was finally given a change of scenery from the team that drafted him.
In 2013, Snider will have to find the one thing that’s eluded him so far, and that’s sustained success at the big league level. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who traded reliever Brad Lincoln to the Toronto Blue Jays to get the young outfielder, will certainly afford him the opportunity.
Perhaps for the first time in his career, Snider will have a starting gig in earnest that will be his to lose, without very many players looming right behind him on the depth chart.
The leash will be longer than what he’s been accustomed to, and the team is unlikely to bounce him back to the minors. Even so, no leash is infinitely long, and Snider knows that he has to find something to build upon this year, or the “bust” label is going to get that much harder to shake.
It didn’t happen after he was traded last season, as the outfielder suffered a power outage with the Pirates, posting a .328 SLG through 145 PA, with just one homer and seven total extra base hits to his name. It’s likely a deviation rather than a sign of regression in his power, but Snider will certainly have to be more than a slap hitter in 2013 to contribute to the Pirates.
His batted ball profile suggests that he was working on improving his contact last season, which meant that Snider drove the ball into the ground more often with a reduced line-drive rate, but after years of a strikeout-happy fly ball approach, that he’s tinkering and trying to make better contact could lead to a more balanced swing in 2013.
There are signs of hope. Snider’s strikeout rate, which has long been his Achilles’ heel, was never lower than it was with the Pirates last season at 23.4%. With the jump to his walk rate to 9.7%, it meant that Snider finished his first stint in the NL with a 0.41 BB/K rate, a number that’s closer to the one he posted while destroying the minors. Power doesn’t just disappear with 24-year olds, and Snider should be able to translate his best tool to his share of homer and doubles in 2013.
If that is truly a sign of an improved, more patient approach to the plate, the future bodes well for Snider and the Pirates. It seems like forever ago that Snider made it to the bigs as a fresh-faced 20-year old who was one of the top hitting prospects in the game; now that he has faced just about all the adversity the game can throw at him, 2013 may be the year he finally lives up to the hype.