Do you remember Travis Snider?
No, seriously. We’ve advanced to a point in time where some Toronto Blue Jays fans would instantly recognize that name (and groan when they read that question), and others would hear the name and be completely clueless. Younger Jays followers would likely fit that latter category, as would fans who lost interest in the mediocre teams that were fielded in the mid-to-late 2000’s and early 2010’s.
That’s a lot of people. To establish context on how attention has changed at Rogers Centre since the playoff runs, take into account that the Blue Jays averaged 41,878 per game in 2016, the highest count since 1994. Compare that to the aforementioned years of mediocrity, let’s say from 2000 to 2013, and it’s a drastic difference.
The Jays’ highest average yearly per-game attendance in those years was 29,627 in 2008. Two years later, it’d go even lower. 2010 saw the count go down to an average of 19,173. That was the lowest for the club since 1982. It would be inaccurate to say that the City of Toronto was fully invested in the Blue Jays. That’s why this question is so interesting.
Do you remember Travis Snider?
Now, before rushing to check his Wikipedia bio or Baseball-Reference page, it should be established that Snider was, at best, a replacement-level outfielder. He wasn’t a strong hitter in his eight seasons, nor was he a good defender.
So why is he relevant now? Not even that, why is he relevant to the point of starring in the lead of a piece that has Major League Baseball’s top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the headline?
Well, Snider turned 30 in February of this year. He’s been out of baseball since 2015. That still sounds pretty ordinary. But there’s something that was mentioned earlier on that should raise the eyebrows of Blue Jays fans. Something that, despite what many would think, makes Travis Snider extremely relevant to both the Blue Jays fanbase and the front office in 2018.
Let’s go back a couple of paragraphs and highlight something. “He wasn’t a strong hitter in his eight seasons, nor was he a good defender.”
Travis Snider played in Major League Baseball for eight seasons. He was called up as a 20-year old, only two years after his selection in the first round of the 2006 Major League Baseball draft.
Around that time, he was one of the top prospects in Major League Baseball. In 2008, “Sports Illustrated” released their annual “Top 100 Prospects” list. Snider was listed at seventh overall, with the following description. “One of the most gifted hitters around, Snider showed the approach of veteran as a 19-year-old, hitting .313 with tons of power coming out of his beefy 245-pound frame.” Does that sound a little bit too familiar? It should.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is also 19-years old and is also viewed as a “plus hitter” (from MLB Pipeline) with “tons of power” (from nearly everyone). The biggest difference between Snider in early 2008 and Guerrero Jr. right now is the difference in ranking. To see how much that matters, all one has to do is look at the rest of that 2008 list from “Sports Illustrated.” Clayton Kershaw was ranked fifth, one spot below Joba Chamberlain.
That, in one sentence, is a perfect summary of how little that ranking really matters. Travis Snider in 2006, despite being completely irrelevant today at 30-years old, is an excellent comparison to what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is right now.
So what went wrong with Travis Snider? Well, for starters, they bought into the hype and called him up too early. Despite a strong first impression (.301 average, 2 HR in his first 24 games), Snider constantly looked overmatched at the plate and was sent to the minors for long periods of time due to slumps in 2009 and 2011. Midway through 2012, they traded Snider to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Brad Lincoln.
To the Blue Jays, this should be presented as studying material for the exam that’s approaching.
The Vladimir Guerrero Jr. exam. Subtitle: “How on earth do we handle this Vlad Jr. thing?” (It’s a really casual exam. Nicknames are allowed.)
President Mark Shapiro, General Manager Ross Atkins, and the rest of the Blue Jays front office know they need to handle it carefully, but they need to realize that there’s a template of what not to do with this type of player ready for them to study right now. They want Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to be a Mike Trout-type, or even a next-generation Josh Donaldson.
If you’re in Atkins’ shoes, you have an opportunity to have Guerrero use this next season in AAA developing as a hitter, improving his defense (something that could be really important if they don’t want him moving to first base or DH), and really proving he’s got the ability to impact in the late-season or next year. All of that sounds better than simply assuming or hoping he’s ready for “the show.” Remember, all of the scouts considered Snider to be a Major League-ready bat when he was in the minors. He wasn’t ready. The Jays could and should learn from that.
And yes, alternatively, they could rush him and call him up now just because of fan pressure and their own hype for what he could be. That’s almost certainly a bad idea.
Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is completely different than any prospect the Jays have ever seen. Perhaps he could see a call-up in early 2019 and make a huge impact. Many fans would certainly like to see this. However, make sure you remember Travis Snider and learn from that.
It’s okay to wait a little longer for your 19-year old potential superstar.