Snell’s swagger vaults him through Rays’ system

Durham Bulls Pitcher Blake Snell talks with fellow pitcher Jordan Norberto from the dugout during the game against the Gwinnett Braves on Friday, July 31, 2015 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Durham Bulls Pitcher Blake Snell talks with fellow pitcher Jordan Norberto from the dugout during the game against the Gwinnett Braves on Friday, July 31, 2015 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

If the Rays expect Bulls pitcher Blake Snell to be the centerpiece of their pitching staff in the next few years, they will find a 22-year-old who acts the part beyond his years.

The Seattle native pitched 43 consecutive innings without giving up a run to start the year, mowed through the Double-A Southern League and earned the start for Team USA in the All-Star Futures Game in July.

His confidence is high, but his mentality as he progresses through professional baseball is neither arrogant nor cocky but altogether impressive.

“You don’t think about those kinds of things until you sit back when it’s over,” Snell said. “It’s a good thing to go through because I just went out and played. I was in a zone, the same as I have always been. … I was aware of it, though.”

Snell was promoted to Triple-A Durham on July 23 and made two starts on the road, compiling a 1-1 record after a pair of quality outings. He is scheduled to make his next start, his first in Durham, on Tuesday against Indianapolis.

Two factors contributed to Snell’s excellence as a pro baseball player through five seasons.

One is his lineage. The 22-year-old right-handed pitcher is the son of a former professional baseball player. His twin brother played at a community college for a season before focusing on becoming a landscaper. His father, Dave, played six seasons in the Giants, Royals and Mariners organizations, reaching Double-A before retiring in 1988.

Snell said his dad does not talk very often about his baseball career. Dave Snell, who was his son’s pitching coach as a little leaguer and through high school, also runs a baseball academy in Washington state. The elder Snell’s attitude has had an imprint on Blake’s demeanor.

“He’s always been my pitching coach, and I’ve always relied on him for advice,” Blake Snell said. “He never really tried to push my arm when I was younger. If I wasn’t completely ready, he would not pitch me, and for that I’m thankful. He’s always thought of my future.”

Highly rated prospect

The other factor is his importance in the Rays’ minor league organization. Snell is the highest-rated prospect in the organization, and officials in the organization have treated his development as a complimentary-round selection in the 2011 draft out of high school with patience and attention.

“I’ve never felt like the Rays would trade me because I’ve been a project that they’ve always put a lot into,” Snell said Friday, just after the trade deadline. “I felt like they’ve wanted to see me, as a project, grow and they’ve wanted to see what I could do. I’ve always searched for what I can do to get better, and they’ve wanted to see how I grow and compete into the rest of my career.”

I’ve always searched for what I can do to get better.

Bulls pitcher Blake Snell

Blake Snell has no such aspirations for a shorter career like his father, though he didn’t always think he would become a professional athlete.

Even up to his junior year in high school, Snell expected to play in junior college, possibly doing well enough to finish a four-year college career at another school.

“I never thought I was going to be a professional athlete growing up,” Snell said. “I never thought I’d even have a chance until (University of Washington) offered me and I committed.”

Snell is a huge fan of Washington state sports – “I’d cry,” he said, if he has a chance to pitch at Seattle’s Safeco Field – and he committed immediately to a scholarship offer from the Huskies.

Tough call

Today, Snell still lights up when talking about the opportunity Washington offered him. Baseball, and namely the Rays, have given him an even larger opportunity, as a top-60 pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. Snell and his dad evaluated both options, but each came to the same conclusion.

“My dad was really the only one to help me make that decision,” he said. “I knew that if I went to Washington, it would have been a great opportunity and all, but I would have to do both school and baseball. I could not put 100 percent of my attention on both, and I would have screwed around and not taken school seriously. I did not want to do that.”

Bulls utilityman Ryan Brett, like Snell, is a Seattle native and was drafted in 2010 out of high school. Brett said they never played against one another going through amateur baseball in Washington state.

“But I knew he had really good stuff, and that’s something you see now,” Brett said. “He’s matured as he has grown up in this organization.”

Bulls manager Jared Sandberg has managed Snell for parts of the past two seasons as the manager of Single-A Bowling Green and Single-A Charlotte.

“He’s really matured throughout the time that I’ve managed him,” Sandberg said. “He knows how to approach things and what needs to be done. He’s always had good stuff, as a 22-year-old in Triple-A, and he is putting it together with an approach.”