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October 22, 2014

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LAS VEGAS 51s:

Mature beyond his years, Snider transitioning back to minors

Blue Jays’ top prospect learned lessons after hot start in majors fizzled

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Justin M. Bowen

51s outfielder Travis Snider warms up in the on-deck circle during a recent game at Cashman Field. After spending 32 games with the Blue Jays to start the season, he was sent down to Las Vegas for an opportunity to play every day and get ready for an everyday gig down the road with the big club. After hitting .242 with 3 homers and 12 RBI with the Blue Jays, he’s hitting .258 for the 51s through 8 games.

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Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Luis Ayala (18) works the rosin bag as Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the eighth inning in a MLB baseball game, Monday, April 13, 2009 in Minneapolis.

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  • 51s outfielder Travis Snider talks about exactly what went wrong for him in the majors before being sent down to Las Vegas
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  • 51s outfielder Travis Snider talks about how the obstacles he overcame in his childhood helped ease the transition from the majors back to the minors
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  • 51s outfielder Travis Snider talks about what he did for two days back home in Seattle before coming to Las Vegas to reset his focus
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51s outfielder Travis Snider throws the ball in after making a play in left. After spending 32 games with the Blue Jays to start the season, he was sent down to Las Vegas for an opportunity to play every day and get ready for an everyday gig down the road with the big club.

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Oakland Athletics catcher Landon Powell, left, waits to tag out Toronto Blue Jays' Travis Snider in the sixth inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 9, 2009, in Oakland, Calif.

On April 13, Travis Snider was right where everyone thought he was supposed to be.

The burly 5-foot-11 outfielder was enjoying his official breakout performance.

Snider, all of 21 years old and only 3 years ago a first-round pick by the organization, clubbed two home runs that day in Minnesota, pacing the big club to a 12-2 victory in the middle of a three-game sweep.

In the Jays' sixth game of the season, he had boosted his batting average to .316, assuring many outsiders that handing him an everyday job out of training camp appeared to be the right move. Two days later, that number peaked at .348.

And just over a month later, he was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas.

"I remember the two home runs in Minnesota, and then things started to go downhill from there," Snider said. "But it's one of those things for me, I think my routine wasn't sharp enough on some of the off days that I had and everything wasn't staying where it needed to be, so when I got into the game the next day, I wasn't ready to go.

"That's definitely a lesson learned for me, and I'm just excited to be here and have the chance to play every day and get as many at-bats as I can and work on things and get better every day."

That's quite the dose of maturity coming from a 21-year-old, who despite his physique, shows his youth with a boyish face and an all-over-the-place mop of dark hair. Nevertheless, he speaks with a deep, consistent tone and an air of cool confidence.

For young players who are fast-tracked to the majors, demotions back to the minors aren't always easy to take.

But growing up in suburban Seattle, Snider was forced to grow up faster than most of his peers.

"In the grand scheme of things, what I've been through in the past helps keep things in perspective," he said.

Snider was only 14 when his mother, Patty, fell into a two-week coma, only to have memory loss and liver damage when she eventually came out of it. Following that was his parents' divorce, and months of rehabilitation for Patty.

The biggest blow came roughly two years ago, when Patty's car went across a median on the Mukilteo Speedway, causing a fatal accident.

Snider has benefited from anger management counseling over the years, and also is as focused now as he's ever been on a young professional career that still carries lofty expectations.

Following a 3-1 victory over New Orleans last Wednesday at Cashman Field, in which he had an RBI single to break a scoreless tie, while teammates showered, dressed and enjoyed the postgame spread, he switched into shorts and a T-shirt to hit the weight room.

"It's a fast city, but I'm here for a reason," he said of Las Vegas. "That's why I'm here and that's what I go to sleep every night with on my mind."

Life lessons have come early and often for Snider, but he still has a ways to go in terms of baseball maturity, and his up-and-down ride through 32 games with the Blue Jays showed him both ends of the spectrum.

To start, he lived up to the hype -- a powerful prospect at 5-foot-11 who flat-out knows how to hit.

After finding success early, he admittedly got a little too far ahead of himself. At the time of his demotion, Snider was hitting .242 with three homers and 12 RBI.

Last season, during a late call-up that made him the American League's youngest player, at 20 years old, he hit .301 in 73 at-bats with two longballs and 13 RBI.

"I'd say there was a period of time where I got outside of my approach and got really swing-happy, trying to hit off-speed pitches in the dirt instead of waiting for a fastball," he said. "I think as you go through it and you start to chase those balls and you're not having the success that you want to, you start to try and change things instead of sticking with what you're doing and changing your approach.

"As things kind of snowballed for me, I got away from being able to handle the fastball, so they'd blow the fastball by me and have me out front chasing off-speed pitches. So when you're doing that, you're trying to hit every pitch and there's no way you'll be successful at that level."

So far for the 51s, Snider is hitting .258 in eight games with a double and two RBI to his credit. He hit safely in his seven games after being sent down before going 0-for-4 on Sunday at Sacramento. He was given the day off in the 51s' 6-4 victory on Monday.

But the Blue Jays' brass said that the designation for assignment was done in order to make sure that Snider had an opportunity to start nearly every day, which over his last few weeks in Toronto was no longer the case.

"He's mature beyond his years and has handled being sent back here very well," 51s manager Mike Basso said. "This is something that unfortunately happens quite a bit in baseball, where kids get sent back down and they have to get themselves back together. Travis will be fine, given he's working here and playing every day. When he gets called back up there, he'll be ready."

As tough as things may have been for him in the past in his hometown, a return there before coming to Las Vegas is part of what Snider credits for making a big difference.

For two days, he headed home to hang with his father, Denne, his sister, Megan, and reconnect with some old friends, getting himself as far away as possible from baseball.

"Got away, went to some property across the water, spent the night out there camping and building campfires and just getting away from baseball and everything that's been going on in my life," he said. "Just spending time with the boys. Then the second night I was out there, I spent time with my close family and friends. When you're away at 21 years old, I don't want to say I get homesick, but when you get away from your roots, those are important people.

"As I come down here, it's important for me to have had those conversations with those people."

Snider's confidence certainly has not been damaged, though.

He still believes in all of the things scouts, coaches and, well, everyone has said about him as a player. And watching him hit at the Triple-A level, it's obvious why he began the season in Toronto. Even the beyond-solid contact he makes on his outs draws oohs and aahs at Cashman Field.

And, most importantly, he's still in Toronto's long-term plans and still regarded as the organization's top prospect.

He's simply adjusting having learned another lesson. It's not the first, and probably won't be the last.

But he can handle it better than most.

"I feel like I played hard and gave it my best every day, but the biggest difference is being more open to working on things," Snider said. "There's a time where I really questioned what I was doing in the cages rather than embracing that routine you develop in the cages over years of playing. And as you're not in the lineup everyday, I got away from what was most important for me, just fine-tuning everything on a daily basis, and that's just a lesson learned for me."

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