When the Tampa Bay Rays are uncharacteristically aggressive with a prospect, you know that they believe he’s something special. They aren’t always right–that’s the reality in this business–but given the Rays’ strong track record for developing pitchers, we have to trust them regarding something like this. Blake Snell‘s season began with 46 scoreless innings, and after just a short cool-off period, he has gone back to dominating in the last month. And now, he has done something we have seen exceedingly rarely in the Rays’ system in the last eight seasons, going from High-A to Triple-A in one year.
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As reported by Josh Vitale, Snell has been promoted from Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham. And with that, suddenly he finds himself on the David Price path from 2008. Price made his pro debut in May and made 6 starts at High-A, 9 at Double-A, and 4 at Triple-A before joining the Tampa Bay Rays that September. Snell’s 2015 season has been just slightly different as he made 4 appearances at High-A and 12 at Double-A before moving onto the minors’ highest level. Snell was drafted out of high school while Price came out of Vanderbilt, but Snell is now 22 years of age, just like Price was in 2008.
While Price missed time with a left elbow strain at the beginning of the ’08 season, Snell has had a clean bill of health, giving him a chance to make quite a few more Triple-A starts than Price did. That works out well because Snell isn’t quite as advanced as Price was, especially with regards to his control. He has six weeks to get himself settled with the Durham Bulls before September comes and a big league call-up becomes a possibility.
Snell won’t need to start for the Rays this season given their pitching depth, but it is certainly reasonable that he could appear in a bullpen role if the team is in contention. Snell is not on the 40-man roster, but he will need to be added to it following the year anyway to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, and giving him a spot a couple of months early makes sense. The Rays were willing to do something similar with Kevin Kiermaier at the end of 2013, and Snell has the ability to make a much bigger impact than Kiermaier did as a defensive replacement that year.
One thing that is especially notable about Snell is the degree to which he dominates left-handed batters. This season, he has held them to just a .103/.162/.175 line with 49 strikeouts against just 7 walks in 106 plate appearances. Snell is also excellent against righty batters (.612 OPS) and will be a starter for the Rays moving forward, but in September, he could particularly be a weapon against teams with high-profile lefty hitters. As a fan, would you rather see Snell or Xavier Cedeno go up against a hitter like Chris Davis?
2015 will go down as a breakout season for Blake Snell, but now he has a chance to take it a step further by making his major league debut and moving up the prospect rankings. The potential for Snell to burst onto the scene is another reason (if you didn’t have enough) to hope that the Tampa Bay Rays are still contending come September.