6:30PM Eastern

With just over a week remaining in Spring Training, the Blue Jays have declared a winner in The Battle For Left Field (TM), choosing incumbent Eric Thames over Travis Snider.

Thames had the lead coming into the competition, and really has done nothing to this point in the spring to let loose his grip on the job, hitting .333/.380/.511 and showing that he has become an average defensive left fielder, at least.  Of course, Snider didn’t do anything to lose the job either, hitting .271/.340/.625 and leading the Blue Jays with four spring home runs while playing excellent defense and stealing a couple of bases.  Both Snider and Thames went 0-for-2 in the extra-inning win over Boston Sunday afternoon, with Snider driving in the tying run in the bottom of the 6th to give him 16 RBIs in 17 spring games.

Snider’s demotion certainly isn’t the end of the line for him as a Blue Jay – he’ll go down to Las Vegas and tear it up, as he always does, and eventually he’ll be back.  It might be sooner than later, as General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was very clear in saying that in his mind, the competition for left field is not over.  It will continue throughout the year.  He’s told Snider, and will tell Thames, that things can change at any time.

Anthopoulos was very impressed with Snider’s spring, that the power is back in his bat and the speed and defense is very strong. And though  Snider didn’t do anything to lose the job, neither did Thames, and since Thames is the one who had it for the last three months of 2011, he gets to keep it.

Here’s my entire conversation with Anthopoulos on Snider’s demotion:

Download

Certainly this doesn’t mean Snider’s time with the Blue Jays is over, or that they’ve given up on him.  What it does mean, though, is that a sad chapter in Blue Jays’ history continues.  Travis Snider could have established himself by now as one of the up-and-coming young stars in baseball.  He should be, by now, a major-league regular, a middle-of-the-order bat, one of the guys around whom a good team builds its lineup.  Instead, he’s a lesson on how not to handle a top prospect.

The Blue Jays had the 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft, and had their eye on a young pitcher from the Pacific Northwest named Tim Lincecum.  When the Giants took him 10th, the Jays turned to Plan B and grabbed themselves a high school slugger from the same area.  Snider was ranked the #53 prospect in the game by Baseball America after a half-season of rookie ball and was their 11th-ranked prospect going into the next year, 2008.  That season, Snider started at high-A Dunedin, was promoted to AA New Hampshire after just three weeks, and spent most of the summer in the Eastern League before getting called up to Syracuse in August, where he hit .344/.386/.516 in just 18 games.  For the season, Snider hit.275/.358/.480 at three levels of the minor leagues – as a 20 year-old – and he was called up to the major leagues on August 29th.

Was he called up so soon because he’d earned the look for team that was out of the race going into the season’s last month, or was he called up because J.P. Ricciardi wanted to prove to the fans that he’d drafted a really good young star in the making?  More believe the latter than the former, but I think it was because Ricciardi thought he really had something and wanted to see Snider in the bigs for a month.

Travis didn’t disappoint, hitting .301/.338/.466 over 80 plate appearances in his late-season call-up, and broke camp in 2009 as the starting left-fielder, sort of.  One of the problems was that in Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays had a manager who didn’t believe that young left-handed hitters should play against left-handed pitchers, as he’d shown in the past with players such as Shawn Green, John Olerud and others.

Snider got off to a great start in 2009, hitting two home runs in an April 15th win over the Twins that jacked his early-season numbers to .318/.400/.864.  But the Twins started a lefty the next day, so Snider sat.  In fact, the Blue Jays faced a left-handed starter so often over the next 10 games that Snider played less than half the time.  He was then allowed to play every day for a couple of weeks, but slumped badly and was sent down before the end of May so that the Jays could call up Joe Inglett.

That was the beginning, and it continued through a number of injuries and a wacky September in 2010 when Snider, who had hit in the bottom third of the order his entire major-league career, was suddenly installed as the lead-off man – but only every other day, sharing duties with Fred Lewis.

Last season, Snider made the team out of Spring Training, and was told the job was his long-term, but Anthopoulos and John Farrell didn’t like what they saw a month into the season, and he was sent out before the end of April with instructions to rework his swing to get the power back into it.  While he was doing that, Thames came up and took the left-field job.

Snider came back in early July and hit the ground running, then slumped, and when the Jays were ready to bring Brett Lawrie to the big leagues, it was Snider who went back down, despite the fact that he had outperformed Thames (.682 OPS to .655) in the month that they were on the team together.

Thames picked things up, and had a .760 OPS from that point on, and spent the winter making himself into a much better defensive outfielder than he had been before, as well as working hard on improving his swing.  It has shown this spring, without question.

The bad news is that the Blue Jays have probably wasted two or three years of Travis Snider’s development, and may well wind up losing him as an asset before he blossoms.  The good news is that in Eric Thames, they might have uncovered a gem that they otherwise may have overlooked.

They certainly appear to be conscious of the mistakes they made with Snider in the way they’ve handled Thames.  They haven’t been afraid to hit Thames near the top of the line-up, and they stuck with him through hot streaks and through slumps. So far, that’s paid off.  And for all the talk about Snider, there’s no question that Thames is a good player and a great kid – he just doesn’t bring the defense or speed that Snider does, and his ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high.

Hopefully we get to see them both become stars in Toronto someday.

In other news, Dustin McGowan took himself out of a minor-league start in the second of his scheduled five innings with soreness in the plantar fascia of his right foot.  He had to be taken off the field on a golf cart, but was walking later in the afternoon.  He saw the Jays’ team podiatrist, and it was determined that he hadn’t torn the plantar fascia, which is very good news indeed.  McGowan, who is trying to come back to the big leagues after undergoing three different arm surgeries (with a knee surgery tossed in just for fun), was in no mood to talk to reporters after getting treatment, so Anthopoulos spoke to us instead. And the General Manager didn’t seem terribly worried, at all.  Here’s what he had to say:

Download

Later on in the afternoon, while he was out talking about the Snider demotion, Anthopoulos said that he’d just gotten word that McGowan is doing even better than he expected to be, so it really may not be a long-term thing at all.  In any case, it’s difficult to imagine Dustin being ready to make a major-league start on April 11th, which is the first time the Blue Jays need a 5th starter this season.  That means the door swings open for Aaron Laffey or Kyle Drabek to swoop in.

Laffey started Sunday’s game against the Red Sox, and wasn’t good.  He gave up five runs on nine hits – five of which went for extra bases – over his five innings, though he didn’t walk anyone.  Laffey spoke to the gathered assemblage afterwards:

Download

Drabek gets his next chance to impress on Tuesday night, when the Jays visit the Yankees over in Tampa.  We’ll have that game for you on the Blue Jays Radio Network, beginning at 7:00PM Eastern.  Join us, won’t you?

Please give me a follow on  The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.  Travis Snider is there as well, @LunchboxHero45, and Eric Thames can be found @EThames14.

Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!

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24 Responses to “In Left Field, Eric Thames”
  1. 1.

    Hi Mike, simple question. If you were the decision maker for the Toronto Blue Jays, who would you be starting in LF on opening day?

    MW: It’s a reasonable question. I think if it were up to me, I would choose Snider based on what has happened the past few years.

    - Ryan
  2. 2.

    Great read Mike as always. Wish I could press the FF button and be ready for opening day. Good to see Lind heating up.

    Did Bautista have any comments after getting hit on the hand. Sometimes you wish Baseball was more like Hockey and we could send Domi to the plate the next batter to charge at Bard!

    MW: Bautista didn’t speak after he came out of the game yesterday, and if he was around to talk later, I wasn’t there because I was doing the pre-game show. He seemed to be fine.

    - Tom from Virginia
  3. 3.

    I’m sick of the BlueJays demoting Snider, what much more can he learn in Las Vegas, he’s been down there more over the past 3 yrs than the big leagues. If you ask Snider should just be traded, it’s clear as day to me that Snider is never going to be a significant part of this team at all so why not trade him? I don’t see the point in keeping a guy with that much talent wasted in Las Vegas enough is enough already

    MW: There’s no reason for it to be clear that Snider is never going to be a significant part of the team at all.

    - Mike_Fahmy
  4. 4.

    Thames choice comes as no surprise and it shouldn’t surprise anyone else. Time to see if they can trade Snider and at least get something for him (which probably won’t be much)

    MW: Which is the exact reason why it’s not time to do that.

    - no suprise
  5. 5.

    The Jays are going to have an influx of ready for the show outfielders in the next 2 or 3 years…where are you going to play Gose,Marisnick,Crouse possibly Knecht and Sierra.Its a great problem for the Jays to have mind you these guys are all prospects and they could fail or be traded just like Rasmus,Snider or Thames.

    - Mark from Thorold
  6. 6.

    “Instead, he’s a lesson on how not to handle a top prospect”

    Disagree 100% with this statement. They have given and may still give snider lots of opportunities to show he can be a consistent (breaking balls included) hitter at the major league level. Clearly Thames is the more well rounded and consistent hitter and fielder at this point and perhaps going forward. I honestly think they have had a good look at snider at this point and really what more can they do or what more can snider do at this point. He’s not all of a sudden going to start crushing the breaking ball at this point

    MW: Not sure I understand how it’s clear that Thames is the more well-rounded and consistent hitter and fielder. I don’t think it is at all.

    - Snider
  7. 7.

    Mike,

    Is there a reason why you think that Roy Oswalt has not been signed yet? Given that it is impossible to assume that the rotation will stay healthy for the entire year, you don’t think that he could be our version of Jack Morris this year?

    MW: Oswalt hasn’t signed yet because the number of teams with which he’s willing to sign is very small, and Toronto isn’t in that grouping.

    - Kevin from Newmarket
  8. 8.

    The question for me is — which of the following are more likely to occur?
    i) Thames will be showcased for 6 weeks, then traded to make room for Snider’s full-time arrival.
    ii) Snider will always be the type of (limited) player that relies on athletic ability (to beat up on AAA pitching) but will never be a pro, capable of adjusting to MLB pitching (and breaking balls) — and isn’t really in Alex’ plans.

    MW: Neither

    - David C.
  9. 9.

    It sounds like you have posted the AA comments on Snider twice. The comments on Dustin’s injury are missing.

    MW: That should be fixed by now.

    - Norm
  10. 10.

    Hi Mike,

    In regards to the bench: with Mathis in as the backup catcher and Omar Vizquel vastly outperforming Valbuena and McCoy, is it safe to say both Ben Francisco and Rajai Davis make the Opening Day roster?

    MW: If Francisco is healthy, then yes. That was always going to be the case.

    - James
  11. 11.

    I really hope that if Mcgowan cannot start the season with the club that Drabek gets a few starts and not Jojo… I mean Aaron Laffey.

    MW: You really can’t draw too many parallels between Reyes and Laffey. I would think, though, that Drabek being on the 40-man while Laffey isn’t would work greatly in Kyle’s favour.

    - Brendan
  12. 12.

    OK MR WILNER TIME TO UNBLOCK ME ON TWITTER = @nicholasmcmanus

    MW: But that would mean there wasn’t a good reason I blocked you in the first place, no?

    - NICHOLAS MCMANUS
  13. 13.

    hi Mike,

    anyone who listens knows what a huge Snider fan you are, and rightly so, but what makes you say that the Jays organization is “conscious” of the mistakes they’ve made in his handling? Is it because of the difference in which Thames has been given every opportunity through good and bad, and if so, how is that so if they continue to keep Travis in Vegas where he will not be challenged to improve? Shouldn’t they be shopping him around, both for his sake , the team’s and to boost Thames’ confidence as well?

    thanks Mike

    MW: No, they shouldn’t. The Blue Jays aren’t an altrustic organization, and their goal is to maximize their assets. Trading Snider now would not be maximizing their assets.

    - frank
  14. 14.

    This is very disappointing news for me. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Thames, but have wanted Snider to get a real shot at being an offensive force in this lineup since the Jays drafted him. I find it hard to accept when he puts up sick numbers in Spring Training.

    Mike, do you think there is any chance that Snider would be called up if Rasmus doesn’t find his swing this year?

    MW: I don’t think that Snider will be used to push Rasmus, but you never know.

    - Matt
  15. 15.

    Not much to say about this besides the reality that the Jays have messed this one up Big Time. I love AA and what he is doing for this team and this organization, but I highly disagree with this decision, and with how the Jays have handled Snider from the get-go. It’s a shame and this has just made it even worse.

    - ~julie~
  16. 16.

    Just wondering why Colby Rasmus has a guaranteed job after his .170 or so last year, and not much better so far this spring, while one of these kids performing nicely has to go to AAA??

    MW: Because Colby Rasmus has proven that he can play, and play very well, at the major-league level.

    - JZ
  17. 17.

    michael,
    dearly want to see mcgowan in there at first opportunity when he’s needed and he’s ready but got no problem handing the ball over to young drabek in the meantime. almost welcoming that one in a way to be honest with you.
    and can’t believe the news out of the cinci camp with madson. ligament torn right off the bone. catfish hunter surgery. out for the season…
    sorry. joshing there on that one obviously…
    but no doubt huge blow. bad, bad luck on that one. maybe could have been us huh? $8.5m bones right down the drain. not good…
    michael… have to ask, what the heck is the record in mlb for best spring training win/loss tally? if we start pushing it to 20-4 or better, would have to think we’re approaching it no??
    certainly has to be this orgnaizations best fla. record to date.
    it’s crazy isn’t it. cause’ is it just me or is it normal starting to worry a little bit about saving some of these wins for the reg. season?
    whatever…..

    - darrell bishop
  18. 18.

    great read..thanks mike..go jays..looking forward to whatever the season brings and congrats on the broadcasting gig.

    - mvb1711
  19. 19.

    I am OK with picking Thames now over Snider for LF but I question why a team that wants to win would choose to keep Francisco over Snider.Travis could serve as a 4th OF and also pinch hit or platoon at DH and still get plenty of at bats.This demotion is not a great way to reward Snider for a good spring.

    MW: It’s far better for Travis to get everyday at-bats in AAA than to be a bench or platoon player in the majors.

    - Paul
  20. 20.

    Hey Mike,

    I was extremely disappointed that the Jays gave Thames the job in left field. My choice would have been Rajai Davis. I know he had a terrible year last year and struggled to get on base, but at the end of the year, in limited playing time, he had 34 stolen bases. In my opinion, a single and a steal is as good as a double.

    Going back to Thames.

    ALL of his stats went into a steady decline as the year progressed. He hit under .220 against AL East opponents (bigger games). And had trouble putting the ball in play. (10 ks in 45 at bats this spring).

    Thames isn’t bad and could get better and I agree he is the better player than snider. However, Rajai Davis can be a game changer and a spark plug for this team. Hopefully the Jays realize that Davis’ impact on the bases is more impactful then thames’ mediocrity with the bat.

    Historically, Davis is a slow starter and his slow start was added with an early injury. I believe that if he had gotten the every day job, that he’d hit .280 again and have 50-60 stolen bases…

    Thames is the “safe” pick, but Davis has the potential to change games a lot more.

    Please write back and let me know if you think that Davis deserves a shot.

    MW: I don’t think Davis deserves the shot over Snider or Thames, but I do think Davis will be a very valuable player on the Blue Jays as a starter against left-handed pitching and a massive weapon off the bench. You’re wrong about the steady decline throughout the year for Thames, by the way – his OPS in August and September was over 100 points higher than it was in July.

    - Warren
  21. 21.

    Was this Snider’s last option? Or does Snider qualify for a forth option?

    MW: No, Snider will be out of options after this season.

    - Colin D.
  22. 22.

    Mike, if Rasmus continues batting sub-.200 into April, what do you see happening in CF? Same question for Lind and the #4 spot in the batting order? How many games do you think it’ll take for Farrell to switch it up and move Lawrie to the clean up spot?

    MW: Instead of expecting the worst-case scenario to happen, why not think happy thoughts and see how things play out?

    - John
  23. 23.

    Hey Mike … I like your blog on how not to develop a top player like Snider. My only commment is this, clearly he is not a guy AA belives in, even though AA is saying all the right things, actions always speak louder than words. Before they kill this asset (Snider) completely, should they not just trade him away before they have to release him or have him claimed on waivers. I think that it is a shame at how this kid has been yo yoed by the organization. In my mind each time they demote him, they kill his mental image of himself as well as value in a trade. Maybe they have just completely written him off?

    MW: I find it very interesting when people draw their own conclusions about things, and then use the word “clearly” to describe a notion with which they have invented.

    - Bob
  24. 24.

    I think the Jays made the right decision. Snider is potentially better but has been inconsistent. Thames will be given a chance to show if he can be an adequate fielder and a consistent hitter.
    If Eric wasn’t ready, I’d be happy with Travis in LF. He seems to be keeping both hands on the bat and staying in the box. But can he keep doing that? I’d like to see it, but history suggests no. That’s why Thames is getting his shot.

    And Mike, I like how you fact-check callers and commentors.

    MW: Thanks.

    - terry the censor
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