Friday, August 05, 2011

SPORTS: AA Is As Smart As You All Think

Last week, I pondered the preponderance of outfield talent in the Toronto Blue Jay outfield, a fact I thought would never come to fruition at the start of the year. Back then, the local heroes of the diamond seemed ready to trot out an outfield of Travis Snider, Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera. And it got worse quickly as Davis got hurt and Corey Patterson was inserted into centre field. Yuck!

I thought Alex Anthopoulos would address the situation by trading one of five (supposedly) decent major league outfielders for a pitcher before the trading deadline. And I was wrong. With the impending call-up of Brett Lawrie, I worried there wasn't enough playing time for Jose Bautista, Cody Rasmus, Snider, Eric Thames and Davis, let alone Mark Teahen. I worried that Thames would be on the plane to Las Vegas and that didn't seem fair to the then .300-hitting rookie. Boy, did I want Snider traded instead of anointed as the left-fielder by default. I expected to be wrong.

And yet, AA's made my day by sending out Snider, an AAAA player if there ever was one, down to AAA. Oh, and he called up Lawrie. Yippee!

Look, EVERY person who knows Snider likes the guy. He's reasonably powerful and moves pretty good. But, if you added up all of his good weeks in the majors over the last four years, it STILL doesn't add up to a half-season of 'good team starter' performance. I get it. He's a hard-worker and he's likable. Manager John Farrell event floated the "Snider in centre field" balloon and pronounced himself happy with the handful of games Snider played there. Given the fact that he's inadequate in right and barely adequate in left, Farrell sounded an awful lot like he was whistling past the graveyard when he tried to publicly back the experiment.

Snider tears up the minors, or has the last year and a half. He pouted upon being sent down a couple of years ago and pouting players don't perform well. But otherwise, he's proven he can hit in Las Vegas. What he's also proven is that he can't make the adjustments needed to hit in the majors. Las Vegas batting coach Chad Mottola did adjust Snider slightly during Snider's first foray in the desert this year. That resulted in a hot start in July for Snider upon his recall. It lasted two, maybe three weeks. Then the scouts from the other teams figured out the new hole in Snider's swing and once again, we saw Snider flailing away. He couldn't make the re-adjustment.

But despite all of that, I still figured Toronto would continue to treat Snider as the fair-haired boy, the future stud project. But he's approaching his mid-twenties--really he's already there. And I think he's a GM killer, a highly-drafted AAAA player with a hole in his swing. He was the only high schooler the previous GM ever deigned to take a first-round chance on. And, in a way, he's sort of proved J.P. Ricciardi was right to pick college guys. He just didn't have the eye for high school talent.

When it was announced that Lawrie was coming up to start against Baltimore, that Bautista was headed back to right field, that Thames was headed to left and Snider to Vegas, I uttered a little yelp of joy and surprise. Then I tempered it a little bit. Thinking through the implications, I had to ask a question.

Although he'll be back when the September call-ups join the Jays, have we seen the last of Travis Snider as a Toronto Blue Jay in meaningful games? I can't help thinking the good guy is gone. And as good as that is for Toronto going forward, it's always hard to lose a universally well-liked man.

But it had to happen.

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