5 TORONTO BLUE JAYS

April 05, 2009

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

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 SCUTARO SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 253 .267 7 60 7
AARON HILL 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 122 .263 2 20 4
ALEX RIOS RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 50 .291 15 79 32
VERNON WELLS CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 97 .300 20 78 4
ADAM LIND DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 188 .282 9 40 2
SCOTT ROLEN 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 186 .262 11 50 5
LYLE OVERBAY 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 220 .270 15 69 1
ROD BARAJAS C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 262 .249 11 49 0
TRAVIS SNIDER (R) LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 181 .301 2 13 0
BENCH
JOE INGLETT IF-OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 288 .297 3 39 9
JOSE BAUTISTA OF-IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 272 .238 15 54 1

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

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Roy Halladay 6 20 11 7.5 1.05 2.78
RH Jesse Litsch 85 13 9 5.1 1.23 3.58
RH David Purcey 155 3 6 8.0 1.48 5.54
RH Brad Mills (R)* 208 6 3 10.2 1.22 2.55
LH Ricky Romero (R)† 243 3 3 5.8 1.44 3.38
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
LH B.J. Ryan 28 2 32 9.0 1.28 2.95
LH Scott Downs 247 0 5 7.3 1.15 1.78
RH Jeremy Accardo 228 0 4 3.7 1.54 6.57

(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

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)