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The Emergence of Blake Snell

The next, great hope of the Rays farm system.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Drafted 52nd overall in 2011, Blake Snell is coming off one of the most impressive seasons in minor league history.

The southpaw started the season in Class A+ Charlotte, went on a streak of 46 consecutive scoreless innings, earned two promotions, and eventually ended the season in AAA Durham with 163 strikeouts in 134 innings pitched over three minor league levels.

This table shows just how amazing that 2015 season was:

Level Wins Losses Games Innings K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
A+ 3 0 4 21.0 11.57 4.71 0.00 .227 0.00 2.17
AA 6 2 12 68.2 10.35 3.80 0.66 .260 1.57 3.26
AAA 6 2 9 44.1 11.57 2.64 0.41 .276 1.83 2.12

The Pitches

Here's a video of Snell reaching 96 mph on the Durham gun with a fastball, down in the zone for a strikeout to end the inning:

And if you have an extra two minutes, check out this sequence where Snell shows off his ability to locate the outside corners at will.

The stats suggest Blake Snell has wipeout stuff. So what kind of repertoire are we talking about here? Well, it just so happens that Brooks Baseball claims to have data on 10 pitches that were thrown by Snell in front of PITCHf/x cameras on July 12th at the Futures Game. Here's what they have to say:

Pitch Repertoire At-A-Glance 

Although he has not thrown an MLB pitch in 2016, Blake Snell threw 10 pitches that were tracked by the PITCHf/x system in 2015, including pitches thrown in . In 2015, he relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (94mph) and Change (83mph), also mixing in a Curve (73mph) and Slider (82mph).

Taking everything with a 10-pitch-sample-size-grain-of-salt, the first thing that jumps out is the 94 mph on the fastball. You can't ask for a whole lot more from a left-handed starter. And look at that velocity separation!

A changeup that is 10+ mph slower than the fastball, and a curveball that is 20+ mph slower. And to top it off, the slider is supposed to be one of his better pitches.

Let's see how they move compared to league averages:

Pitch Hmov(in) Vmov(in) Velocity(mph)
Snell Fourseam 2.94 9.63 93.88
Average Fourseam 5.5 9.4 91.2
Snell Changeup 5.38 4.91 82.62
Average Changeup 8.9 5.1 82.1
Snell Slider -3.53 0.88 82.42
Average Slider -1.1 1.4 82.9
Snell Curve -3.65 -7.57 72.57
Average Curve -4.0 -5.1 76.0

So the fastball has clear plus-plus velocity (and above average rise) for a lefty, but the lack of arm-side run makes it a pretty straight pitch. The changeup is comparatively straight as well, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if hitters are looking for average movement. The vertical movement and velocity contrast to the fastball are excellent and should keep hitters off balance on this pitch. The slider runs a ton and gets a little more drop than average, and the curve is just so slow it probably looks like it drops off the face of the earth.

On paper, this looks like an excellent arsenal.

He has heat, and he has the breaking stuff to get both righties and lefties out. Snell might actually have four plus pitches. Of course those grades get knocked down a tick if he can't control them. Either way, you're in good company if your 4th best pitch is a change-up that gets 10 mph of separation from the fastball.

That is ace upside with a pretty high floor as well. Dare I say David Price-lite upside with a Matt Moore floor? That may seem a bit optimistic, but I don't think it's too far off.

Pitch Comps

I looked at 18 left handed pitchers and only found one good pitch comparison. That's CC Sabathia's slider, which is a fantastic pitch. The rest of the comps are merely close, but not perfect.

There's also a Quintana movement and Kershaw velocity for the fastball, Ryu or Kershaw curveball, and Smyly changeup comp to be made.

An article from 2013 suggested two of the best lefty pitches in baseball were Kershaw's curve and Sabathia's slider. That sounds good to me!

Again, this is all loosely based on 10 pitches, so I'm trying not to get too excited.

Prospect Rankings

Here is a list of the most up to date rankings and pitch grades for Blake Snell. Rankings are Top-100 overall, and pitch grades are on a 20-80 scale.

Source Ranking Fastball Slider Changeup Control
Baseball America 12 70 55 65 50
Baseball Prospectus 21 65 60 55
MLB Pipeline 14 65 60 55 45

Pretty much everyone agrees that Snell has at least 3 above average pitches, with the fastball leading the pack by a good margin. They also agree that his control still needs work.

What's interesting here is how high BA is on his change up. Maybe they put a lot of stock in the separation it gets from the fastball. Also interesting is that no one graded the curveball, which looks like it could very well be a fourth above average pitch.

2016 Projections

Here is a list of the most up to date projection systems for Blake Snell.

Projection System Games Innings K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
Steamer 6 37.0 8.47 4.52 0.92 .286 4.07 4.19
PECOTA 36 9.1 4.2 4.18 4.12
ZiPS 26 121.0 9.15 4.61 1.04 .289 4.17 4.26

The projection systems don't do him justice, although Steamer thinks Snell averages more than 6 innings per start. They haven't forgotten all of the mediocre seasons Snell had before 2015. If you think he has a Matt Moore floor with a David Price ceiling, these numbers project closer to his floor.

Although projected to start the 2016 season in AAA Durham, Snell is likely to make an appearance with the major league club at some point this year. The Rays' front office will find a way to get Blake Snell and his four above average pitches into games and, if all goes well, contributing to a playoff push.