Snyder revives status with Orioles
Ex-first-round pick back on path to bigs after overcoming injuries
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The biggest compliment you can pay Brandon Snyder is that he doesn't stick out. Snyder, a former first-round Draft pick who has yet to play at Double-A or higher, has fit right in at the Orioles' big league camp this spring, sending line drives ringing to all fields whenever he gets the opportunity to bat.
It's a fulfillment of destiny, a rousing story of a player overcoming the odds despite adversity. Snyder has overcome two shoulder injuries and a position switch to revive his prospect status, and as he climbs the organizational ladder, he's giving Baltimore more and more reason to count on his arrival.
"It's been a lot of fun," Snyder said Thursday. "I'm surrounded by a lot of big league guys, and they kind of show you the ropes. It's been an awesome experience -- very humbling. And at the same time, you see where you are and realize you can play in the big leagues. It's a big thing, because a lot of times you see these guys on TV and think they're invincible. But when you go out there and start playing, it's just another day."
Snyder has gotten most of his playing time in intrasquad games, but he's gone 3-for-5 in Grapefruit League action. And more importantly, he's served notice that his bat can carry him at the big league level. Snyder will have to survive a test at Double-A Bowie, but after that, his path appears to be clear.
"He's always had the uncanny ability to hit the ball with authority the other way," said manager Dave Trembley. "I think that was a real thing that stood out. ... I think he's going to hit enough to play in the big leagues and play first base. He got himself in tremendous shape this winter, and he's a very likeable young man."
Two years ago, the situation was quite different. Snyder, the 13th overall selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, was coming off a disastrous season that saw him dislocate his right shoulder and tear the rotator cuff in his left one. The Orioles moved him out from behind the plate and his bat began to blossom.
Snyder batted .283 with 11 home runs for Class A Delmarva in 2007, a modest bounce-back season considering his injuries. And then last year, he batted .315 with 13 home runs for Class A Frederick, cementing his comeback. All of a sudden, Snyder looked like the player he was expected to be all the way back on Draft Day.
That transformation came due to hard work and persistence. Snyder said the six-month rehabilitation process after corrective surgery on his left shoulder was a long and grueling road. And although he's over any debilitating effects of the original injury, he still takes extra precautions to make sure he's as healthy as possible.
"It's been a long road," Snyder said. "I'm still working on things with my swing to make sure it doesn't happen again. It's an ongoing thing, but at the same time, it was a great learning experience. I learned I'm not made of rubber anymore. I need to take care of myself in what I do and how I eat, because that plays a big part."
Gary Kendall, who managed Snyder at Delmarva during his injury-shortened season and during his initial transition to first base, said Thursday that the youngster's success goes way beyond the box scores.
"He's guy who comes to the ballpark every day expecting to get better," Kendall said. "You have a bunch of good kids in the clubhouse, but certain kids stand out. And he was one that stood out right away. I understand what attracted the scouts to him -- not only his tools, but the kind of person he is and the kind of player he is.
Snyder, who has played in both Hawaii Winter Baseball and the Arizona Fall League, said that he's looking forward to getting tested by upper-level arms on a nightly basis. He also said that his prior experience as a catcher has helped him as a hitter, although he sometimes gets carried away and thinks too much.
His first exposure to video work may exaggerate that trend, but Snyder has said that he enjoys breaking down his at-bats with his hitting coach and with any use of technology available.
"Sometimes, you can say, 'Wow, I really felt bad in that at-bat,' and then look back and see it was actually a good swing," Snyder said. "Other times, you see something was a good pitch or that you got yourself out. You don't only study pitchers. You can see what your weaknesses are and be able to work on them."
As for his best position, though, Snyder seems to be split. The former backstop has worked out at first base and third base in prior seasons and said that he really wants to play wherever his bat will take him.
"It's wherever I can help the team and wherever I can get in the lineup," Snyder said. "I love playing third base, and it's probably my favorite place to play, but if I can play first base in the big leagues, so be it. ... I hope I do get a chance to play a little more third, but like I said, wherever I can make the lineup, that's what I want to do."
The Orioles like him at first base, and the recent move of fellow first-round Draft pick Billy Rowell isn't likely to change that. Snyder might not be a classic first baseman in terms of light-tower power, but Baltimore sees his consistent line-drive stroke and athletic nature and thinks that he could be a potential fast-riser.
"I think you'll probably see him playing in Double-A, and let's see what happens after that," Trembley said of Snyder. "I think by the All-Star break, we should know. We all know he can hit the fastball, and in that league, I think we'll see how he handles the breaking stuff. But he's got a chance because he can hit."
Snyder is more worried about tomorrow than next season, a lesson taught by his roundabout path to the upper levels. Now, he just wants to hit and let someone else worry about his promotion.
"I worried about that stuff a lot early in my career," Snyder said. "I just feel like I'm so close right now, and being able to be here, I know it's time to make that jump to Double-A. This team has been known to move guys [quickly], and everybody seems to moving in a good direction. I'm excited to be here and we'll see what happens."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.