Blake Snell has had an amazing year. His 2015 journey has seen the 22-year old jump from a top 15 Tampa Bay Rays prospect to one of the top left handed pitching prospects in the game.
Snell started the season on an unbelievable tear. The young lefty didn’t allow a run over his first eight appearances of the season, a total of 49 straight innings if you added on his final three shutout innings of 2014. Runs have been just as hard to come by in his 62.2 innings pitched since the streak was broken, as he has pitched well across three levels in 2015.
So, who is Blake Snell? How has someone who has torn up three levels of baseball not received their call in this Year of the Prospect?
The Rays are notorious for showing patience with their young stable of pitchers over the years and the end results have been Cy Young contenders and All Stars. David Price, remember, made a name for himself as an exciting 22-year old out of the bullpen during the Rays magical 2008 World Series run before becoming a perennial Cy Young candidate. The Rays have continued to pump out exciting young pitchers year after year since Price, with James Shields, a healthy Alex Cobb and Matt Moore, and Chris Archer just a few names highlighting the list. Is Blake Snell next?
Snell has the upside to be a middle rotation pitcher and could settle in nicely behind Cobb and Archer as soon as next season. That would give the Rays quite the imposing rotation should Cobb and Moore return to health. Cobb, Archer, Snell, Jake Odorizzi, and Moore? I wouldn’t want to face that in a playoff series.
The Rays 2011 first round draft pick (chosen 52nd overall) has been held back somewhat by a history of control issues. This season, he seems to have put those problems in the rearview window, and that may have come from harnessing better command of his secondary stuff.
Since a three game span in early June — where Snell "regressed" to his old ways walking four batters in three straight games — Snell hasn’t allowed more than two free passes in any of his last eight starts. His four starts at Durham, his first taste of International League baseball, have been stellar as he has struck out 29 while walking just five over his first 19 innings. His WHIP stands at an impressive 1.01 over three levels in 2015, and is at 0.79 since his most recent promotion.
Snell’s best pitch is his fastball, usually falling into the strike zone around 95. John Sickels describes it as a pitch that has some nice sink and cutting action to it. Snell has really improved his slider, which has a nasty bite and proves to be tough against lefties. His changeup has become a reliable third pitch, although its command could still use some work.
Check out Snell blow away Kyle Waldrop with some 96 mile per hour heat (video courtesy of MiLB.com):
As Snell’s arsenal has improved, so has his numbers. This season, he has posted a 3.75-percent walk rate, a number he hasn’t come close to since 11 starts at Rookie level ball in 2012. His strikeout rate is a career best 11.22-percent. He allows a ton of ground balls and rarely gets burned by the home run, allowing a mere 20 over 397 career innings pitched. All of this has allowed Snell to strand a great deal of runners this season, posting a 1.24 ERA over three levels, the best ERA in all of Minor League baseball.
It seems that the Rays are in no rush to promote Snell in 2015. They currently don’t have a lefty in their starting rotation, and with Snell seemingly on a five inning limit thus far in Triple-A, nothing seems to be pointing at an imminent promotion. That being said, a strong 2015 finish could secure a 2016 rotation spot for the Rays young left hander.