By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Blake Snell, Starting Pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays
2015 season (Minors): 25 G, 23 GS, 134 IP, 1.41 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, 53 W, 163 SO, 53 BB
It seems as though every year, the Tampa Bay Rays churn out a new stud starting pitcher. From James Shields and David Price to Chris Archer and Alex Cobb, the Rays’ farm system has done its job, to say the least. If you watch Blake Snell, you’ll quickly see that there’s even more to come.
Drafted 52nd overall in 2011, Snell put it all together last season at 22 years old. The left-hander pitched no higher than Class A Advanced Charlotte in his first four seasons with the organization before speeding through Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery up to Triple-A Durham last season. He began the year with a 46-inning scoreless streak and didn’t skip a beat with any promotion. Snell racked up a ridiculous 163:53 strikeout-to-walk ratio through the three levels, even posting his lowest walk-rate in Triple-A.
Ranked by MLB.com as the No.5 left-handed pitching prospect in baseball and the Rays’ top arm in the farm, Snell’s arrival in Tampa Bay should come sooner than later in 2016. Snell’s fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, maxing out at 96-97 mph, and his slider is his second plus-offering and a pitch that he controlled well last season. He still needs to work on his changeup, but his fastball-slider combo has been devastating to Minor League hitters.
Since he does still need to improve the changeup, and like most young arms can still use work on his control, it’s very doubtful that Snell makes the Rays out of Spring Training. Behind Archer and Cobb, Tampa Bay’s projected rotation includes Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, with Erasmo Ramirez also in the mix. Those are all impressive young arms, but none of them are absolute locks. Cobb, Odorizzi, Smyly and Moore all missed time with injuries in 2015, and Cobb and Moore have both had Tommy John Surgery. The likelihood of all six of these guys staying healthy and dominating all season is minimal, so Snell is sure to get at least a crack at the bigs this year.
Early into Spring Training, Snell has already been drawing rave reviews from catcher Curt Casali and Rays hitters who have seen him. It seems to be not a matter of if, but when for Snell. Barring injury or some shocking setback, Snell will make his Rays debut in 2016. Judging by how quickly he mowed through the Minors last year, he could be able to stick and become yet another breakout young pitcher for Tampa Bay.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.