Snider’s extra-base hit, walk, and strikeout rates somewhat echo Jay Bruce’s, though Bruce is the better athlete and made a big jump in the power department in his second full season. If everything goes according to plan, Snider could be a starting corner outfielder for Toronto as soon as the end of the 2008 season. He’ll have to work diligently on keeping his weight down and improving his defensive skills in order to avoid becoming a career designated hitter. But his bat will find its way into the lineup some way or another and he could wind up being a very special hitter – perhaps top ten in the American League special.
Along with his highly attractive skill set, Snider has a genuinely attractive personality. He’s wise beyond his years – uncanny when it comes to seeing the big picture – and he’s focused on fine tuning the rough parts of his game. I had a chance to talk with Snider about the differences between Midwest League and Arizona Fall League pitching, what stats he has been looking at to judge his performance, and his temporary leave from eating contests.
If you'd prefer to listen to this interview, we've made the actual audio file that it was transcribed from available.
Adam Foster: You’ve gone from one of the least hitter-friendly environments in minor league baseball to perhaps the most friendly. How would you compare the Midwest League and Arizona Fall League?
Travis Snider: It’s a tough comparison. You’re facing mostly guys that have been in Double-A, Triple-A – some with some big league experience – so I think the experience in the pitcher’s part is better here. But I think that when you get in an atmosphere that’s more of a showcase league instead of your regular season...guys have thrown 100-plus innings coming into this; you’ve got starters coming out of the pen that have been starters their whole life. That puts I guess a disadvantage in the pitcher’s standpoint.
But I think for me it’s been a great experience hitting-wise because you get to see all these experienced pitchers – they’re coming after you – and how they’re trying to get you out in different situations. For me it’s been a good learning experience; I think the comparison is it’s just a higher level of pitching but you’re seeing guys that you’ve never faced before. So at the same time, for me, it’s a learning experience.
AF: What are some of the pitchers here doing that pitchers in the Midwest League didn’t do?
TS: You see guys challenge with more fastballs in pitcher’s counts. Guys are pitching smarter with guys on base. They have their approach every time you come up there – the same way you have an approach. You gotta stick to your approach, given the situation, but I think for the most part they’ve done a pretty good job. Or I mean I guess I’ve learned a lot just from watching what they do and being able to take every pitch and every at-bat for what it is and be able to put it down in the memory bank and learn from it.
AF: You numbers don’t show it, but have you been at all intimidated by this level of competition?
TS: No man, intimidation’s something that I don’t really believe in. You’re put in a position where I feel blessed – I’m honored to be here. You’re playing around some great guys – guys who are going to be in the big leagues next year; already been there. So it’s an honor to be here. But I’m a type of guy that whatever position I’m put in I’m going to go out there and compete and believe that I can compete at every level that I’m at. So I wouldn’t say there’s an intimidation factor. I’d just say it’s been a good experience and it’s been an honor to be here.
AF: I was surprised to see that you were going to be playing in the AFL when the rosters were released. And this is your first full season of pro ball. You have to be exhausted?
TS: You know man, getting into November and you’re doing it for 11 months now. It’s great baseball down here – great teammates, great atmosphere – it’s made it a lot easier to play 11 months straight than your usual high-school season of 27 games then you get to play 60 summer games. So it’s been an experience in it’s own. Everything here has been an experience for me, especially my first full season. You throw winter ball on top of that...it’s been a lot of fun but it’s been a long season.
AF: What are some of the things you guys do around here for fun?
TS: We hang out. We have our barbeques on the weekend...hang out with the guys after the games. I’ve got some good buddies that are down here going to school and stuff, so I’ve been able to spend some time with them. I’ve had a lot of family and friends that have come down here to watch me play. And also I have family that lives down here, too. So I’ve been able to have a lot of fun down here...along with coming out here and playing every day.
AF: That’s right. And you were recruited by Arizona State. So aren’t there some guys you know?
TS: I actually have buddies from back home that came down and played at some local JC. And some other friends that play for Arizona State. So it’s been a lot of fun since I’ve been down here. And just being about to enjoy it with your family and friends is what it’s all about.
AF: Has your family been down here to see you?
TS: My dad came down with some of my aunts. And then his bother and family lives down here. And I’ve got a lot of second parents and little-league coaches and people...you know I’ve probably got eight or nine people here tonight that have watched me since I was I’ve been nine years old. So it’s pretty special to come out here and play in front of those people that haven’t you seen you play professionally yet.
AF: Yeah, I guess it’s hard to feel away from home when you’ve got crowds like that.
TS: You know, it’s funny man. That big guy over there, I played with his kid – he’s coached me since I was nine-years-old. And he threw BP to me every workout that I did with scouts – for pro workouts in high school – threw BP to me...best BP pitcher I’ve ever had. And he’s never seen me play professionally...came to the game yesterday and first at-bat he saw, I ended up hitting a home run. That was pretty cool man. But for the most part, when I’ve had family and friends at the game, I haven’t played as well. So we try to keep them away from the park a little bit.
AF: You tossed your bat a few times tonight, think that had anything to do with it?
TS: Oh man! You know what dude, it’s been a long season. You get down here and use a different pine tar or just that one pitch where you lose focus halfway through your swing or whatever it is...that bat just goes flying – it’s happened three times in the last two games. It’s been a good laugh in the dugout and the clubhouse.
AF: Fernando Martinez was the youngin last year here. I talked to him; he said his nicknames from his teammates were “pequeño” and “junior”. Do you have any nicknames here?
TS: No, no nicknames. I mean guys give me a hard time, but for me...I’ve been able to develop a lot of good relationships with guys you’re going to be playing against at higher levels and hopefully someday in the big leagues. So I feel like these guys have accepted me at my age and I’ve been able to enjoy my time with them on and off the field. And obviously with them being older and being able to go out and all that kind of thing, I still get to have some good times with them...barbecuing and hanging out and just enjoying Arizona and the weather and stuff like that.
AF: What have you learned just about the life of being a professional baseball player from these guys?
TS: You gotta take it one day at a time because this is the dream. You look and see the little kids running around and you think back the days where it was just a dream of being able to come out here and play. So it's...
(Fan yells: Snider, why you taking so long with that interview man, c’mon?!)
...and even having hecklers like that. It’s all part of it. You get to be able to just experience it for what it is and cherish it every day that you’re out here because life’s crazy – you never know when it’s going to end.
AF: A couple more then I’ll let you talk to the hecklers.
TS: Oh man!
AF: What stats do you look at, if any, to judge your performance?
TS: I mean, you got your general stats that they look as a hitter. One thing, I guess, down here that I’ve really not over concentrated on but something I’m conscious of is your at-bats against lefties. And for me that’s been a big learning experience just facing upper-level pitching from the lefthanded side...seeing guys that have different windups – have hitches and things that they use to their advantage – that you don’t really see as much at the lower levels. So that’s been a big experience for me. And as a stat you look at how you’re doing against lefties because a lefty/lefty matchup is something you want to be able to handle.
I think other than that defensively that was a big thing for me. I made 16 errors in a full season and that’s ridiculous for playing the outfield. But down here it’s been a little bit better – I’ve learned a lot; been able to get some work in and some good coaching. But other than that just hitting with guys on base is the other thing that I don’t feel like I’ve done as well as I could have. Those are just things that you learn how pitchers are pitching to you in those situations and it’s something that I’m still learning. Every at-bat I gotta go out there and take a lesson from it and a mental note of how guys are doing it because it’s gonna happen all the way up the chain.
AF: Speaking of defense, does it bother you at all when people talk more about your body type than your overall athleticism as a defender?
TS: You know, I don’t take offense to it. My body is what it is and I know what I can do, I know where I need to be. For me, it’s something I gotta focus on and take very seriously. I worked very hard this season to lose weight. I told myself I was going to come into Spring Training a lot less than I did. For me it’s motivation, it’s not something I’d take offense to. You’re always going to have critics and people that are gonna find weakness in your game. But you just go out there and you compete and you do what you do. And when that offseason hits in a week, that’s when you really start to concentrate on those things. And, for me, for my first offseason I learned just a lot about taking care of yourself and proper conditioning and how much rest you need before you start working out and that kind of thing.
So you know it’s been a good learning experience with the critics; what people say, “God you know he can hit but he can’t do anything else.” And you go in everyday and you just try to improve those areas all around to make yourself a complete player.
AF: So when we talked last fall you said you were going to give up eating contests and get down to 225. How has that gone for ya?
TS: I got down to 230 in the season – I’ve gained a little bit of weight since then – but the eating contests...I’ve seen some guys I guess that can put some plates away. And I know David Purcey – he’s a big boy – we hung out a lot during instructs and went out to dinner a lot. And me, him, and Ricky Romero would go out and me and Purcey we’d eat Ricky under the table ‘cause he’s a little guy. But I’ve still got confidence in my ability as an eater, so it’s something that I’m trying to keep away from and just focus on playing baseball and working out and doing that whole thing.
Adam Foster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.