Minor League Review: Blake Snell Gets Our Attention

By Robbie Knopf

Blake Snell was just another member of the crowd. Snell was one of the Rays’ 10 selections before the second round in the 2011 MLB Draft, selected 52nd overall. He was a nondescript signing, agreeing to a deal for $684,000, exactly the slot bonus. He was an interesting selection as a projectable 6’4″, 180 lefty, but he didn’t exactly stand out with his low-90’s sinker and a very good changeup for a high school pitcher but a sub-par curveball. He also had poor control of his pitches. Snell definitely was an upside pick, but it never sounded like Snell has as much potential as some of the players around us. But suddenly in 2012, Snell has burst onto the scene and is showing us exactly why he was a first round pick and just how good he has a chance to be.

After a nice but short pro debut in 2011 with the Rookie GCL Rays, the Rays sent Snell to their more advanced Rookie team, the Princeton Rays, where he started on Opening Day and was expected to play a big role in the team’s success. But he has pitched better than anyone could have hoped, let alone expected. Thus far this season, Snell has gone 3-0 with a ridiculous 0.40 ERA, a 10.3 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and not a single home run allowed in 5 starts and 22.2 IP. His FIP has been an outstanding 2.23. According to Minor League Central, Snell has posted an unbelievable 63.8% groundball rate. His ERA leads the Appalachian League and his FIP and groundball rate are both second. He has been downright dominant.

Snell remains 6’4″, 180, but his repertoire has made major strides in a short period of time. He gets an outstanding downward plane on his fastball, and he supplements its good overall sink with nasty late bite that has allowed it to transcend from simply a groundball pitch to a great swing-and-miss pitch. He has gotten his arm slot on his changeup nearly perfectly in line with his fastball with more sharp late action, and it’s another pitch that leads to whiffs and weak contact. And even his curveball has made strides, getting less loopy as he has added a few MPH of velocity to it and has featured solid depth, making it a serviceable third pitch and hopefully it will continue to improve. Snell’s control remains inconsistent at times, but he has made progress as he has been able to find a good arm slot and keep the ball down in the zone. In addition, the movement on his sinker and changeup has been dynamic enough that he has been able to overcome most of his control issues with swings-and-misses. Snell is definitely getting helped out quite a bit by facing Rookie Ball hitters and he has a ton of work still to do on his arsenal. But he has started to turn his vague potential into standout performance and has kept us on the edge of our seats.