Travis Snider shook hands and shoulder-bumped his former teammates prior to the spring training game matching the Blue Jays and the Pirates, with an obvious outpouring of goodwill on both sides.
“I can go up and down that roster, guys I’ve played with the last five or six years, and I feel there’s a genuine relationship with a lot of them,” he said. “I hope that’s the kind of teammate I am, but also it speaks fondly to the type of character they have over there.”
Snider’s character certainly isn’t holding him back from a prosperous big league career, but rather the lack of demonstrable power in his bat. After being traded by the Jays on July 31 last season, Snider hit one home run in 50 games for Pittsburgh, in a total of 145 plate appearances. He batted .250 with a .328 slugging percentage, numbers that would make it difficult for any team to justify a starting spot in right field, unless the player had outstanding speed.
Snider was stationed in right field on a breezy, sunny Wednesday, his back to hundreds of fans lining the new wood boardwalk around the outfield fence at McKechnie Field. This spring, prior to Wednesday, he’d hit three doubles but no homers in 28 plate appearances, averaging .250 before grounding out in his first at-bat against Jays’ starter Mark Buehrle.
“We have a talented group of outfielders and they want me to come in and just play hard,” Snider said. “The No. 1 goal is stay healthy, and go out there and fill whatever role this team feels is the best to help them win ballgames. For me, what I’ve experienced in my career, I’ve learned through the maturation process that a lot of these things are out of your control. The attitude of taking it one day at a time, that’s where my mind is at, not who’s projected to start or whatever.”
Snider first broke into the majors with the Jays at age 20, in 2008, and split parts of every season since then between the big leagues and minors. The power demonstrated by the left-handed hitter in seven minor-league seasons – a .528 slugging percentage in 500 games – hasn’t come through consistently in the majors, where in 292 games his slugging percentage is .415.
In the National League, without the designated hitter stagnating a manager’s moves, there is a greater opportunity to be used as a role player if he does not make the starting lineup as a regular or a platoon player.
“Every day the manager comes in, and puts the best nine guys out there to win that game,” he said. “The difference coming from the American League, just because you’re not starting doesn’t mean you’re not going to get in the game. You might have an opportunity to pinch-hit, or be part of a double switch as a defensive replacement. You have to find a way. Who doesn’t want to be a starting player, to be an everyday player? That’s my goal. But whatever happens, I can only control today, wake up tomorrow, put my uniform on, and do my best.”
Among many others, Snider feels the Pirates are on a verge of a breakthrough, after 20 consecutive losing seasons. They’ve built the roster through internal development and added experience, notably with the acquisition of catcher Russell Martin who batted second in the order. Martin, of Montreal, was signed to a two-year contract after spending seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
“He’s experienced high expectations,” said GM Neal Huntington. “He’s seen some guys do some really good things, and also seen some guys be distracted and get off track. He’s a better player for it but we also believe he can come in here and shorten our learning curve a little.”
Snider’s locker is two doors down from Martin’s.
“He’s not a guy who’s always going to be drilling people; he’s a guy that’s going to be building people up,” Snider said. “The vibe I’ve picked up from him is positivity. We try to start the day out with a smile and a laugh, because we’re both in a relatively new place. He’s going to bring a lot of knowledge and a lot of leadership to this team, and it’s exciting for all of us.”