- TEAM: Tampa Bay Rays
- AGE: 23
- POSITION: Starting Pitcher
- BATS: Left
- THROWS: Left
- HEIGHT: 6-foot-4
- WEIGHT: 180 lbs.
- ACQUIRED: The Tampa Bay Rays selected Snell with their fourth of seven supplemental first-round draft picks in the 2011 First Year Player Draft. Snell was chosen directly from Shorewood High School in Shoreline, Washington.
The tall and thin Snell has a very complete repertoire of pitches. They include his basic, most frequently used pitch, which is a four-seam fastball that hits a velocity of 95 miles per hour with relative ease. He can sink that pitch consistently, making it a very difficult pitch to hit. His fastball speed does vary as he adds and subtracts speed.
He also throws very effective secondary pitches. He features a quality slider that he throws at 83 miles per hour with downward movement and an above-average 84 mile-per-hour changeup that many consider to be the best in the Rays system. That pitch especially helps him against right-handed hitters. He can end many at-bats with a very effective curveball that he throws at 74 miles per hour. Movement is key for Snell.
His pitches plunge down in the zone, and some rise depending upon the velocity and his release point.
The vast velocity difference as well as the movement and direction of his arsenal helps keep hitters from anticipating which pitch is coming. Snell is very good at changing the eye level and the balance of the hitter.
At one point Snell was wild because he couldn’t repeat his release point and the ball sailed or carried on him. Now, however, he is repeating his delivery better while mixing in all his pitches without overly depending upon his fastball. Due to the velocity and movement on his four-seamer, he can get away with pitching up in the zone with his best rising fastballs.
Snell is tough to hit because his arm speed is consistent regardless of the pitch he is throwing. He cuts his fastball at times and creates deceptive angles with a full, effective arsenal of quality pitches. The same fastball can take several different directions.
With the exception of his first professional season in 2011, when at the age of 18 he pitched only 26.1 innings for the Rays’ Gulf Coast Rookie League team, Snell has never yielded more hits than innings pitched in any season.
Snell has battled control issues off and on during his minor league career. His career record of 4.5 walks per nine innings still needs improvement. Snell has completed parts of six minor league seasons, and his WHIP would be better than it is at 1.29 with a better walk rate.
I do have a bit of a concern about how Snell will hold up physically in long, hot, humid summers as he ages. He does not have much meat on his bones and he’ll have to continue to work hard to keep fit and strong.
Snell is major component of a pitching-rich franchise that has the luxury of giving him sufficient time to develop. In essence, his command and control are improving with time and experience. Those are the final components of his preparation for a big league role. His stuff is very effective against quality hitters, but his command and control will carry his future.
I first saw Snell when he pitched a perfect inning in the 2015 Futures Game in Cincinnati. He dispatched the World Team on ten pitches, five of them for strikes.
The 2015 season was special for Snell. He started the year with eight straight games in which he did not yield a run.
The streak included four starts at 21 innings at Class-A Advanced Charlotte and four starts and 25 innings at Double-A Montgomery. He gave up his first run of the season, and the only run of his six-inning outing, in his ninth start.
The Rays promoted Snell to the parent club on April 23, 2016. He started against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in a 10-7 Rays loss. He went the first five innings, throwing 90 pitches and yielding two hits and only one run. He struck out six while walking only one. It was a good outing, but he was returned to Triple-A in late May and is starting now for the Durham Bulls.
Snell is effective because he paces his game well and is tough to hit. That has generally been the case in his career, but it is becoming an even greater trend more recently. As his arm slot and release point have been more stable, he has been tougher and tougher to hit. So far this season, left-handed hitters are batting .213 against him. Righties don’t fare much better, as they are hitting only .240. He’s a tough competitor on the mound.
Last season, Snell pitched for three Rays teams in their minor league system. He compiled a 15-4 record pitching for Class-A Advanced Charlotte (3-0), Double-A Montgomery (6-2) and Triple-A Durham (6-2). He returned to Durham to start this season.
THE FUTURE FOR SNELL
Snell remains the Rays’ top overall prospect in the view of most scouts. He continues to refine his command and control in a manner that keeps him knocking at the big league door. It is likely he will remain at Durham until an injury or poor performance among the Rays starting pitchers requires his presence. He will likely be the first pitcher summoned when a starter is needed.
Little remains for Snell to gain at Triple-A. But he still must work on improving his command and control. Consistently throwing strikes and walking fewer hitters will put the finishing touches on Snell’s preparation.
He has the type of pitching repertoire that can eat innings and handle the opposition several times through the order. He can mix and match between and among four quality pitches, using each in sequence as he desires.
Snell is capable of retaining his velocity throughout the game.
With a floor of 90 to 91 miles per hour on his fastball and a ceiling as high as 96, he can set up his secondary pitches in a meaningful manner. His fastball alone sets him apart from a great number of prospect pitchers. When his secondary pitches are considered, he enters the conversation of baseball’s best future rotation starters.
Due to the fact the Rays are such a pitching-rich franchise with a number of high-quality starting pitchers, I initially view Snell as a mid-rotation starter with a chance to move up the Rays’ pecking order depending upon circumstances.
SNELL IN A PHRSE: An impactful starter
SCOUTING GRADE FOR SNELL: 60 – An occasional all-star
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