Simply put, Travis Snider is easily one of the best hitting prospects in the game. At just 20 years of age he flew through three levels of the minors last year and ended his wild ride in Toronto as a September call up. He should be a fixture in the Jays' lineup right out of spring training and is a valid Rookie of the Year candidate. Let's take a look at some of his numbers to get a better idea of what his strengths and weaknesses are.
Total Zone stats are found at Minor League Splits. All other numbers came from First Inning.
First the good -- He has some serious power. You can see for that for yourself by watching this video of him winning the Eastern League HR Derby.
I think 30+ HR annually isn't out of the question, although that probably won't happen until a little later on down the road. His walk rate went up and down as he moved up the ladder, but scouts praise his ability to work the count. That particular aspect of his game should stabilize; just as a general rule of thumb as players age, they swing less. He hits to all fields and despite his lofty strikeout totals, scouts believe that he has the sort of swing that allow him hit for a high average.
Now for the wrinkles -- His defense is crummy. A right elbow injury limited him to 96 games in the outfield last season, but his one full season in RF was a disaster. He already weighs 245 and there are concerns about his conditioning, therefore a move to first base or even playing as a DH could be in his future. While he's a career .300 hitter in the minors, he put up some gaudy strikeout numbers along the way. It's not as if he will be legging out a lot of infield hits, so I'm not sure how much he really will hit for average no matter how sweet his swing is. He also struggled to hit left-handed pitching last year, putting up a .246/.300/.351 line against southpaws.
The flaws seem to yell "old-player skills!", but there is no reason that Snider won't be a valuable player for years to come. The question is how valuable. The scouting community sees a regular all-star, even someone who could contend for MVP's at some point. I'm not ruling that out, but I see a more conservative future, at least under his cost-controlled years. Power hitters tend to peak during their age 27-30 years, after he will have hit the free agent market. He also looks like a DH in the making, limiting his ultimate upside.
Just for fun, I used one of Baseball Reference's fun PI tools to find a comparable player Snider. For the criteria I used 20-29 year old OF/DH's that weighed at least 225, hit 35 homers or less, walked 75 times or less and struck out 120+ times during a single season. I know it's not perfect, again it was more or less just for fun. Those standards fit into his seven year PECOTA forecast. You can see the results here.
Throw out Bo Jackson and Jose Canseco, Snider isn't going start swiping bags any time soon, but Pat Burrell, Pete Incaviglia, Greg Luzinski and Richie Sexson represent some decent enough comparisons to Snider in my opinion. The Luzinski and Burrell comparisons I like best because they are slow-footed, bad fielding, three true outcome types. Snider, Burrell and Luzinski were also first round picks. Note also the presence of a young Adam Dunn. Incaviglia represents Snider's downside; I don't believe Snider will struggle to get his OBP above .315 every year.
For 2009, his projections* vary rather wildly --
That probably is not quite good enough for the AL ROY, not unless Matt Wieters and David Price remain banished in AAA for the duration of the season. If he was on an NL team, he would probably be the favorite.
I hope I didn't come across too negative, Snider is a great prospect no matter how you slice it. He does however have some shortcomings and I'm interested to see how much of an effect they have on his total value. My main questions are, "can he become at least adequate in the outfield?" and, "can he somehow find a way hit for average despite high strikeout totals?" How Snider answers those questions will tell us whether he will be a star or just plain good.
*Projections found at Fangraphs