Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Will Travis Snider live up to the hype this season?
Anytime we have a 21-year-old player who has posted a .299 average/.375 on-base percentage/.513 slugging stat line in more than 1,100 minor league at-bats, and who has already reached the big leagues, he should be hyped.
A first-round pick out of an Everett, Wash., high school in 2006, he hit .325 to win the MVP award in the Appalachian League in his pro debut, and should have won the MVP award in the Midwest League in 2007. He rapped out 58 extra-base hits and slugged .525, and nobody else in the league was even better than .500.
Snider hit .262 with 17 homers in 98 games at Double-A last year, despite being slowed by an elbow injury that affected the fluidity of his swing mechanics and caused him to begin the season back in Class A. He finished the year hitting .344 in an 18-game Triple-A stint and .301 with a couple of homers in 73 big league at-bats.
The big negative is that he struck out 177 times last season, and that's one of the reasons we need to temper our short-term expectations a bit.
Just a couple of days ago, I ranked Snider at No. 4 on my list of top fantasy prospects for 2009, writing the following:
"Given the Jays' lack of options, especially when it comes to players with power, Snider will be given a long leash as the team's primary designated hitter. The average might not be great -- likely something in the .260 range -- and he'll rack up the strikeouts, but he'll have 20-homer power in the short term with the potential for more if he adapts to big league pitching quicker than you'd expect from a 21-year-old. He'll eventually become a middle-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues, but we don't know how much of that ability will be on display in the immediate future."
Do not get me wrong, I am a huge Travis Snider fan. Snider is the type of power hitter who can eventually hit better than .300 while launching 30 bombs. But, again, he's just 21 with fewer than 500 at-bats above the Class A level.
If he's not that type of hitter right away, is that not living up to the hype? Or just that we are being impatient? If he hits, say, .262 with 20 homers and a good amount of RBIs playing every day -- numbers that are certainly doable, and that will come with a lot whiffs -- that could still have value in most any league.
I suppose there is also the small possibility he could hit his way off the club this spring if he does poorly, and be sent back to Triple-A to start the season, but given the team's options, I really don't see that happening.
Stocky, yet athletic, Snider's sturdy lower half generates a lot of leverage for his smooth, balanced swing. He has great bat speed, which allows him to let the ball travel deeper and wait on off-speed pitches. It's not easy to blow a fastball by him. He has light-tower power, and we're not necessarily going to worry about his strikeouts with the rest of the offensive package. He has a tendency to get pull-happy, so he's going to have to make sure he stays up the middle and lets his natural swing work, but I do expect him to improve his strikeout rate a little bit as he gets settled into the majors.
The bottom line is that I always like to give myself a chance to get lucky. In mixed leagues, I will happily take a flier on a young prospect with Snider's potential, because if he doesn't pan out, there is always a stable veteran with a starting job in the free-agent pool to replace him with. But you also take the chance because Snider is the kind of top-tier prospect who could seemingly improve and make adjustments quicker than expected, allowing him to exceed modest short-term expectations. He'll live up to the hype in future years and should provide a decent return in his rookie season.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.