By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
Former Toronto Blue Jays' first-round draft pick Travis Snider has signed with the independent Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks.
The one-time can't-miss prospect, who has played in parts of eight major league seasons, hopes this is only a temporary stop in his road back the big leagues.
One of the top players entering the 2006 draft, Snider was selected by the Blue Jays with their 14th overall pick. The promising outfielder got off to a hot start in the Blue Jays organization and continued that success for the next few years, receiving praise from the likes of Baseball America.
As Snider was ascending through the Blue Jays' system, his top prospect status continued to grow and the team's fans were getting more and more excited to see him with the big club. In August 2008, that happened. Snider was joined the Jays when they were at Yankee Stadium and became the youngest player in the majors at the time.
He ended the season with the Blue Jays and hit a very impressive .301 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 24 games and he made the Blue Jays' Opening Day roster in 2009. Snider, however, started to struggle for the first time in his pro career and was sent down to triple-A.
Many thought it was too much too soon for the young prospect as some deemed he was rushed to the majors, but according to Snider that was not the case.
“I don’t think I got rushed,” said Snider in a recent phone interview. “I think the opportunity when I was 20, 21-years-old was a great opportunity and I had proven at every level of the minor leagues that I can hit and I can play. When you get to the major league level, the focus is not just on baseball. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision-making process and how to put together a lineup, trying to shield guys or protect guys to be successful. I have had a lot of those opportunities throughout my career that I haven’t made the most of and that is on me.
"That is a matter of playing better and realizing things that I went through when I was young and getting sent down and struggling for the first time at the major league level were things I could have handled differently and could have handled better. Obviously, those are things I can’t go back and change, but things that I can go back and learn from, and try to implement into my game and be a better player and person because of it.”
With Snider back in triple-A, it was a time for him to work on his game and improve. However, Snider lost confidence and his career became much of a yo-yo, always going up and down and never staying in one place.
Snider was dealing with trying to live up to top prospect potential, which ultimately impacts some, but he says it didn’t impact him at all.
“I mean I never really had an issue playing in the minor league level,” said Snider. “My experiences of failure all came at the highest level of the game up until 2016 when I had a terrible year in triple-A. I think when you look at the numbers I never really experienced any tough times in the minor leagues. It was just trying to find consistency at the major league level.”
It wasn’t so much losing confidence, but rather Snider not handling being sent down the right way, as he wasn’t working on anything new or trying to improve his game, something he regrets.
“I think it is a double-edged sword. When you are young and you have never experienced failure before, there are a lot of reasons why it is a good decision on the part of the organization but as I said before I didn’t handle properly,” said Snider of how being sent down to triple-A at a young age to improve should have been good for his growth as a player.
“That is something that sent me back in terms of confidence and being able to feel comfortable at the major league level because you never know how much time you have up there. As soon as you start playing poorly that is the first thing that is on your mind. You do see a lot of young guys come up early and have success and never get sent down or never struggle, and then you see guys that do struggle and then make the adjustments and do come back and go on to have successful MLB careers. You see a number of young guys, whether they are 20, 23, 24-year-olds and get sent down and go through what I went through of a roller-coaster of a career and having being sent down as many times as I had and ultimately traded.
“It can be something that can impact people for the long-term, I don’t use that as an excuse or a crutch, it is just human nature. When you are comfortable and having fun playing baseball and focusing on that, it is a a lot easier to go out there and perform. It is something that I wish I would have done better as a young player at the major league level, but it is something that has allowed me to prolong my career and be able to play and have these experiences and be able to share them with young kids.”
After multiple call-ups and demotions over the next couple of seasons, the Blue Jays decided to trade Snider to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Brad Lincoln. Snider would have to go to a new organization, something many thought would be good for him as he was still struggling in Toronto. It turned out to be a good time for Snider, but being traded for the first time was a lot to handle for the outfielder.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions, they aren’t as a fresh because it has been six, seven years now,” said Snider. “But I had a lot of good friends, lot of good relationships there and I felt that I had grinded, and grinded and grinded and finally gotten called up that year after overcoming an injury in triple-A. I was excited to finally be a part of a team, that a lot of guys I came through the system with and a lot of dear relationships I had developed, so essentially it was tough. You feel you are getting taken away from your boys, who are almost like family.
“You are in a position where I went to Pittsburgh and had some of the best years in my career. Not just (from a) statistical standpoint but (an) experience standpoint of playing on a winning team and being apart of a fresh start and a new organization, that really stood by me through good years and bad years. It was kind of the highlight of my career being able to play in the playoffs and being a part of a winning organization. Which ultimately was the best thing for me, but at that time it was tough to process all those emotions.”
Pittsburgh helped revive Snider’s career and it started to look like he could consistently play at the major-league level, but he started to slump again. Looking back, however, Snider realizes why he struggled in the majors as a young player.
“There are a number of things. Number 1, the mentality and the confidence is different at the major league level,” said Snider. “Once you have experienced some things I went through and how I handled them. I didn’t handle them as well as I could have and things get stuck in the back of your mind, whether that is how you can stop or prolong slumps. The mental traps you fall into, of worrying about things that you can’t control. Or when or if you might get sent down at any given point of the season because you haven’t had a good last week or two.
“All these things that I have never experienced before in my career were happening at the major league level on the biggest stage, and the spotlight of having to talk about it every day with a group of people. I say that with having great relationships with everyone I have dealt with in Toronto from a media standpoint, so much of that gets engraved in your mind because you are constantly talking about it. Whereas in the minor leagues, even going to different places that I have been since, you realize what leads to success at that level is the ability to separate the business and the distractions, and go out and play and have fun doing it. You see a lot of players that have successful careers and you see a lot of guys struggle with the things I struggled with and it makes for a tough balance but a good lesson and good life experiences that can make you stronger if you put them into perspective.”
After the trade to Pittsburgh, Snider bounced around several teams over the next few seasons and this offseason, something happened to him which he didn’t expect.
“I didn’t have one minor-league offer, which was a bit of a surprise,” said Snider. “I had a pretty good year in triple-A and I felt I was pretty close to getting back to the big leagues at the end of the season. With the way things played out in the free agent market, it wasn’t so surprising when you see the number of names that either did not receive major league deals or significantly reduced contracts, and a number of guys who should have gotten a major league deal were signing minor-league deals for the first time in five, 10 years or in the history of free agency we really haven’t seen that. I think the expectation was to get a job in triple-A, and that didn’t happen so here I am in Long Island and ready to gear up for Opening Day in the [independent] Atlantic League and looking forward to playing the game.”
Snider is embracing his first tenure in independent ball.
“You reach a point in your career when you have an opportunity to play independent ball or explore the international options,” said Snider. “I think at this stage for me it is the best opportunity for me to play in front of scouts. The Atlantic League is well known for getting guys the exposure needed to get back to affiliated ball and getting guys back to the major leagues, which is the goal. For me, it was best case scenario and the best opportunity available.”
But for now, Snider is focusing on one thing -- just playing baseball.
“I mean the goal is to get back to the major leagues,” added Snider. “However you can do that, as I have learned in my career I don’t expect anything. The short-term goal is to go out here and handle my business each and every day, play the game hard, have fun and enjoy the time with the teammates and the opportunity in front of me. In the long-term, the goal is to get picked up by a major-league affiliate and work your way through whatever level they are providing the opportunity and get back to ultimately where you want to be in the show. The focus still remains on where I am and enjoying the process of where I am at here and not getting caught up with things that could or could not happen in the future.”