Monday, March 3, 2008

Blue Jays' prospect Travis Snider; a.k.a. The Story of How Brian Giles Used to Be Really, Really Good

Ah, prospect-watching. Sometimes the fun is in dreaming about what might be; sometimes it's about remembering what was.

Over the weekend it was announced (or revealed? how do these things come out?) that hot-crap Blue Jays' OF prospect Travis Snider would skip the high-A Florida State League this season and go straight to AA Vermont. Despite being only 20, Snider is on track to play for the Blue Jays next year.

UPDATE (3/7): I wish I could remember where I saw this item because it's only now being talked about by the team.

Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider will likely skip high Class A Dunedin and head right to Double-A New Hampshire to start the season.

"It’s almost completely decided that he’s going there" said Blue Jays farm director Dick Scott.

Snider was taken 14th overall in the first round of the 2006 draft out of high school in Washington state. He was considered by some to be the best high school hitter in the draft, but fell due to concerns about his size (5-11, 245). Those concerns appear misplaced. Though he probably should avoid bacon cheeseburgers gaining much additional weight, his size is to some degree mitigated by his athleticism; he was a running back in high school. Like fellow big boy Prince Fielder, Snider can flat rake.

After hitting an impressive 313/375/525 as a teenager in the most pitcher-friendly of all the minor circuits, the low A Midwest League, Snider is considered one of the best prospects in baseball, ranked #7 by ESPN's Keith Law ($), #7 by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, and #11 by Baseball America.

Okay, full disclosure: I'm more than just a disinterested fan; I have Snider in a lifetime keeper league. His was one of the first write-ups I flipped to when I recently put my hands on the Baseball Prospectus Annual for 2008. I won't risk copyright infringement other than to say they think highly of Snider and compared his ceiling to 'peak Brian Giles.' That just about curdled my milk. I can't remember the last time I thought of Giles as any good.

I checked out Baseball Reference and was astonished to find just how good 'peak Brian Giles' was - observe:

1999 Age 28 315/418/614 39 HR 115 RBI OPS+ 156

2000 Age 29 315/432/594 35 HR 123 RBI OPS+ 157

2001 Age 30 309/404/590 37 HR 95 RBI OPS+ 150

2002 Age 31 298/450/622 38 HR 103 RBI OPS+ 177

That's what some of my more up-market peers might call down-ballot MVP seasons.

His peak included some pretty stellar seasons, all accomplished more or less anonymously amidst the chronic losing in Pittsburgh: the Buccos averaged ~91 losses a year during Giles' four year peak, including a round 62-100 in 2001.

In 2003, Giles was dealt to San Diego. He managed OPS+ of 145, 128 and 146 in his age 32, 33, and 34 seasons. He's in full decline phase now.

Interestingly, his age 28 season was the first one where he exceeded 500 AB. He must have been a real late bloomer, because he was still rookie-eligible at 26 in 1997.

Snider is off to a much quicker start in his career, and it looks like he'll make his major league debut at 21 or possibly sooner. One can hope that he'll have a longer productive peak than Giles, but perhaps the Giles comp serves as a reminder that while the bigger bodies can shine just as brightly, they may not shine for as long. [In case you're wondering why the Phillies are reluctant to ink Ryan Howard to a long-term deal....]

Still, lesson learned. Peak Brian Giles is a pretty high bar.

UPDATE (3/4): Here's footage of Travis Snider in which he does a nice Brian Giles impression.

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