By far the question I hear the most is for deep prospects that are going to make a jump in the rankings. Under-the-radar type goes who are about to explode. Call them sleepers, risers, whatever you want, people want to know about them. Today's subject is one of my favorite guys who isn't getting big time buzz heading into 2013. I have already gone to the mat for guys like Joe Ross (off to a great start), Jorge Bonifacio (solid start) and Oswaldo Arcia (just received a big league call up)...well, Blake Snell is the next guy on my list.
A supplemental first round pick (52nd overall) in 2011, Snell has received the Tampa Bay braising that the Rays are so famous for, going "slow and low", totaling only 19 starts across two levels of rookie ball prior to 2013. Like many young pitchers with impressive stuff, Snell can rack up the strikeouts, but is also a little too generous with the walks. He overpowered the lower level hitters in rookie ball despite the free passes, resulting in a 3.08 ERA in 2011 and a 2.09 ERA in 2012. Where the appeal comes in is the 79 strikeouts in only 73.2 innings pitched entering 2013. In 2012 we saw Blake accumulate 53 strikeouts in 47.1 innings pitched, while dropping his walk rate from 3.8 to 3.2 per nine innings. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT: Over two starts in 2013, Snell has walked 7.4 per nine innings which isn't exactly encouraging, though all of his walks came in his first start of the season. His most recent start saw him go 4.2 innings, striking out nine while walking none, upping his strikeout rate on the season to 16 per nine.
At 6'4 and 180 pounds, Snell is a long and lean pitcher, who has the potential to add to his already plus fastball as he matures. As a lefty, Snell's 92-94 MPH fastball is an easy plus, and features late movement. He does well to control the fastball, using a deft feel for pitching. The change up is an important pitch for a left-hander who wants to remain a starter, and Snell's is a potential plus pitch. He can already turn the pitch over but he still has a ways to go with the pitch. Snell also throws a slider that features good tilt and depth, and is a swing and miss pitch. The slider gains it's effectiveness by working off the fastball, as hitters fail to pick it up until it's too late. Snell does throw a curveball, but it is well behind the slider, and is likely behind the change-up as well at this point. While Snell does have an advanced feel for pitching in addition to power stuff, he still struggles to command the ball in the zone at times. It's not all roses for Snell though, as he does need to add weight and strength to withstand the rigors of a full season of baseball after being shut down early with fatigue in 2012.
Even with substantial development of his change up and slider, Snell might "only" be looking at a number three starter in terms of ceiling. Of course a number three starter is still incredibly good and incredibly valuable. There is a chance though that he develops into more than that, if he can add some command and sees his pitches develop, or adds velocity while retaining his feel for the fastball, Snell could be a number two type pitcher. Snell will not be a fast mover no matter the results and that's probably best given his likely development. The last Rays lefty that I felt this way about was Matt Moore, and while Snell's stuff isn't quite so electric, we know that Moore was able to overcome his control and command issues while retaining his strikeout ability. That's not meant to be a comparison for Snell, but more an example of another big stuff lefty who received the "slow and low" treatment with some success. I wouldn't look for Snell before 2016, but in dynasty leagues he's someone you can get on the cheap now, and watch blossom.