Career Profile: Ian Snell
Ian Snell announced his retirement this week, so he's a good topic for a Career Profile, and his development as a prospect was interesting in any event.
Ian Snell was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 26th round in 2000, from high school in Camden, Delaware. He wasn't a hot prospect when drafted, but he quickly emerged with good quality pitching in 2001, posting a 1.39 ERA with a 56/10 K/BB in 65 innings for Williamsport in the New York-Penn League in '01. At the time, he was pitching under the name "Ian Oquendo," taking his wife's name to replace his own. Scouts were impressed with his arm strength and athleticism, but were skeptical about his small size (listed at 5-11, 160 at the time) and concerned about his durability. I didn't put him in the 2002 book because I had strict space limitations from STATS and couldn't write about many short-season players, but would give a similar pitcher a strong Grade C or a C+ nowadays, perhaps with a "sleeper alert" tag.
Assigned to Low-A Hickory for 2002, Snell/Oquendo pitched very well, going 11-6, 2.71 with a 149/45 K/BB in 140 innings, 127 hits allowed. He was now getting his fastball up to 95 MPH, also using a good curveball and changeup. There were complaints about his level of emotional maturity, but he had a good feel for pitching and the stats were excellent. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2003 book, writing that he was "young, talented, and unnoticed by most."
Moved up to High-A Lynchburg in 2003, Snell went 10-3, 3.33 with a 122/33 K/BB in 116 innings. Promoted to Double-A Altoona to finish the year, he ran off a 4-0, 1.96 mark in six starts with a 23/10 K/BB in 37 innings. The stats were still excellent, and scouts were less skeptical about his short body at this point given his plus fastball and strong secondary pitches. The main worry now was personality: he exhibited a stubborn streak and seemed resistant to coaching, although doing this his own way was certainly working so far. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2004 book and had him ranked 44th on the Top 50 pitching list.
Snell spent almost all of 2004 in Double-A, going 11-7, 3.16 with a 142/40 K/BB in 151 innings, showing no deterioration in his ratios at the higher level. He got into 12 innings for the Pirates late in the year and gave up 14 hits and 10 runs, but it was still another strong season for him. He changed his name back to Snell. He retained his Grade B+ rating and I had him all the way up to Number 15 on my pitching prospect list.
2005 was split between Triple-A Indianapolis (11-3, 3.70, 104/23 K/BB in 112 innings) and Pittsburgh (5.14 ERA in 42 innings split between 10 relief outings and five starts, 34/24 K/BB. He entered the Pirates rotation full-time in 2006, winning 14 games albeit with a 4.74 ERA. He had a solid year in 2007, but began to fade in '08 with command troubles and emotional depression, eventually moving on to Seattle. He's announced his retirement this week, despite being just 29 years old.
Snell's final record: 38-53, 4.80 ERA, 4.62 FIP, ERA+ 90, with a 639/372 K/BB in 804 innings, 873 hits allowed. His final WAR was 7.0: he had a run in 2006-2008 with values of 2.0, 3.5, and 1.4 before slipping the last two seasons. Overall 2007 was his best year with a 116 ERA+ and a 3.5 WAR.
Most Similar Pitchers, assuming his career ends now and he doesn't try a comeback: Tim Redding, Paul Wilson, Scott Olsen, Cliff Fannin, Bill Champion, Steve Parris, Todd Ritchie, Jack Armstrong, Joe Kennedy, and Dave Lemanczyk. This is a list of guys who all flashed potential and had some success but couldn't sustain it.
Notice how the Pirates handled him as a prospect: one level at a time, no rapid promotions even when he was pitching well.