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5 TORONTO BLUE JAYS

April 06, 2009
April 06, 2009

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April 6, 2009

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5 TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Kid's Going To Bea Hit
Maybe not this season, but 21-year-old Travis Snider is headed for sluggingstardom

This is an article from the April 6, 2009 issue

HE COULD havebeen a server, heeding the come-on posted by the diner across the street fromDunedin Stadium that read real men WEAR APRONS. Instead, to the delight ofhundreds of fans in a queue stretching from the third base line to thecenterfield wall, Travis Snider was a signer. So while several of his teammateswere dishing out food during a spring training barbecue for season-ticketholders, Snider was satisfying their appetite for his autograph. Only 21,Snider downplayed his popularity with the same humility that has won overcoaches and team executives. "We wore name tags," he said sheepishly."Maybe that helped."

Snider needed nointroduction to the Blue Jays' faithful who have been eagerly anticipating hisarrival in the heart of the batting order since the 2006 draft, when Torontotook him with the 14th overall pick. Since then the tag affixed to Snider hasbeen CAN'T MISS. And when asked for his early impressions of Snider, hittingcoach Gene Tenace said, "You mean Boy Wonder?"

Snider may lookyoung, but he has the bat skills of a mature hitter, drawing comparisons withNationals slugger Adam Dunn—albeit with the ability to hit for average as wellas power. While zooming through three levels of the minor leagues last season,Snider batted .275 (.349 OBP, .480 slugging) with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs.After a late-August call-up to the majors he hit .301 in 24 games and now saysthat playing in the big leagues was "easier than I thought."

Consider Snider'spresence, and surging popularity, a sign of the times in Toronto. Even withholdovers such as centerfielder Vernon Wells and ace Roy Halladay, the emphasisis on the team's future. The next wave of talent, headed by Snider, could beplaying prominent roles by midseason. For instance, Opening Day catcher RodBarajas is merely a placeholder for hard-hitting prospect J.P. Arencibia, afirst-round pick in 2007. First baseman David Cooper, infielder Bradley Emausand a host of decent young starters, led by 24-year-old Ricky Romero and22-year-old Brett Cecil, are also on the brink of sticking in the majors.

Manager CitoGaston likens the next generation of Blue Jays to the core of his 1989 teamthat won the AL East. It's a bold comparison considering the '89 team had a lotof pop. Last year Toronto finished 10th in the American League in battingaverage, home runs and on-base percentage; 11th in walks, slugging percentageand runs scored; and 12th in hits. No player topped 20 home runs, 80 RBIs or a.500 slugging percentage.

Even so, theoffense has fewer question marks than the rotation, which barely resembles theoutfit that led the league in ERA in '08. While Halladay remains one of thegame's best, injuries to Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum have left the BlueJays with 24-year-old Jesse Litsch as the only reliable arm behind Halladay.During a midseason demotion last year Litsch cut down on throwing his cutterand relied more on a four-seam fastball that made him a more overpoweringpitcher down the stretch.

"If not forthose injuries we never would have found out about Litsch," says generalmanager J.P. Ricciardi. Now similar opportunities are available to Cecil andRomero to earn the final two starting spots. But in a division that has threeteams capable of winning 95 games, such uncertainty in the rotation is notencouraging. "We're realistic," says Ricciardi with a shrug. But whenthe G.M. looks beyond this season he can only smile and say, "We'reexcited."

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

The loss ofthree-fifths of its starting staff—and subsequent refusal to replace thosepitchers through free agency or the trade market—have the Blue Jays mourningthe collapse of what was one of last season's strongest rotations. Withsignificant questions surrounding the 3-4-5 slots, the team should address thelack of depth by turning back the calendar to the 1970s and going to a four-manrotation. Having an ace such as Roy Halladay (left), among the most efficientpitchers in the game, is essential to this plan. Toronto also has a strong anddeep bullpen that includes four effective southpaws, allowing the club to hedgeagainst overworking its starters. Cito Gaston can't get last year's rotationback, but he can improve this year's by sending his best pitchers to the moundmore often.

THE NUMBERS

LIE 828

Strikeouts byBlue Jays starting pitchers last season, 61 more than any other rotation in theAmerican League. However, 53% of those K's (439) were logged by A.J. Burnett,who signed a free-agent deal with the Yankees over the winter; Dustin McGowan,who will miss at least the first two months of this season with a shoulderinjury; and Shaun Marcum, who will miss the entire year with an elbowinjury.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager CitoGaston
SECOND SEASON WITH BLUE JAYS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

MARCO SCUTAROSS
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R253.2677607
AARON HILL2B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R122.2632204
ALEX RIOSRF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R50.291157932
VERNON WELLSCF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R97.30020784
ADAM LINDDH
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L188.2829402
SCOTT ROLEN3B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R186.26211505
LYLE OVERBAY1B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L220.27015691
ROD BARAJASC
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R262.24911490
TRAVIS SNIDER (R)LF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L181.3012130
BENCH
JOE INGLETTIF-OF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R288.2973399
JOSE BAUTISTAOF-IF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R272.23815541

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHERPVRWLK/9WHIPERA
RHRoy Halladay620117.51.052.78
RHJesse Litsch851395.11.233.58
RHDavid Purcey155368.01.485.54
RHBrad Mills (R)*2086310.21.222.55
LHRicky Romero (R)†243335.81.443.38
BULLPEN
PITCHERPVRWSVK/9WHIPERA
LHB.J. Ryan282329.01.282.95
LHScott Downs247057.31.151.78
RHJeremy Accardo228043.71.546.57

(R) Rookie
*Class A stats
†Triple A stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
July 10, 2000

During David Wells's first stint with Toronto, GordAsh, the assistant G.M. for four of those years, was part of the effort towhittle away at the 6'4" Wells, wishfully listed at 225 pounds. What'smore, the Blue Jays condemned the pitcher's other conspicuous characteristics:his love of Metallica CDs played at ear-melting volume, a devotion to multiplebrews, a sharp tongue and a Fire-starter temper. "We did everything wecould to control Boomer," says Ash, who, fed up with Wells's antics andinconsistent performance, helped the team reach its decision to release him in1993. "We learned the hard way: The worst way to control him is to try andcontrol him."
—JEFF PEARLMAN

For access to all Blue Jays stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOWINSLOW TOWNSON/APBOY BAND Snider will soon be accompanied by other future stars breaking out of the Blue Jays' farm system.PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (HALLADAY)PHOTO