With the recent release of the (now outdated) Fangraphs Top 15 and Baseball America Top 10 prospects lists, ranking season is upon us once again. Prospecting, along with most other things in baseball, brings with it both hope and heartbreak. The Blue Jays have seen their share of both over the past half-decade, and over the next few weeks I will take a look at some of the biggest disappointments from that time. Two weeks ago we covered Russ Adams and Dustin McGowan. Last week we remembered David Purcey and Curtis Thigpen. Today we'll talk about Travis Snider and Kevin Ahrens.
Before we dig right in, I'd like to make a few notes about how I came up with these names: first, not all players in this series could really be classified as a 'bust' or a failure, since most of them did at least have (or are likely to have) a career in the majors. Secondly, I only considered players who ranked as top five prospects in the organization according to Baseball America at least once since 2005, and were taken in the first 40 picks of the draft . Lastly, I do recognize that a large number of Jays fans have followed these players since they were drafted. If that's you, you can read the following to dampen your day and laugh at me: a relatively new fan who is just beginning to understand the pain of prospect disappointment.
Travis Snider was drafted 14th overall out of high school in the 2006 draft, and was the first high schooler taken in the first round during the JP Ricciardi era. He was given a signing bonus of 1.7 million dollars, and began his professional career in rookie ball, where he hit .325/.412/.567 with 11 home runs in 54 games. 2007 was Snider's first full season in the Blue Jays' organization, and he spent the entire year at low A Lansing. He had a very good season, hitting .313/.377/.525 with 16 home runs and a wRC+ of 151. He ranked #1 on Baseball America's top 10 Blue Jays list and #11 on the top 100 list after the 2007 season.
He began the 2008 season in high A Dunedin, but his stay there was not a long one. He was promoted to AA after only 18 games, where he spent the majority of the season, posting a line of .262/.357/.461 and hitting 17 home runs. Snider was promoted to AAA Syracuse on August 6, and played in only 18 games there before making his MLB debut on August 29. He finished 2008 with the Blue Jays, appearing in 24 games and hitting .301/.338/.466. He was once again the Blue Jays #1 prospect on BA's list, and moved up 5 spots to #6 on the overall list (behind Matt Wieters, David Price, Colby Rasmus, Tommy Hanson, and Jason Heyward).
As well as Travis Snider played during the two years he spent in the minors, there were some red flags: namely, his strikeout rate, which was never below 20% and went as high as 27.4% in a 428 PA sample in AA.
He began the 2009 season with the Blue Jays, and hit two home runs on Opening Day. From there, though, things began to go downhill. He was demoted to AAA Las Vegas in May, after a prolonged slump. He was very good in hitter-friendly Vegas (three cheers for Buffalo), with an excellent OPS of 1.094, and an wRC+ of 186. He was called up to the Blue Jays again in August and he finished the year with an MLB line of .241/.328/.419.
In 2010, Snider got 319 plate appearances, the most he's had in any year in the majors. Unfortunately for him, it was also the year he began to have trouble with his wrist. He hit the disabled list in May 2010 with a wrist injury and didn't return to the Jays' lineup until late July, after rehabbing in Dunedin and New Hampshire. Going into the 2011 season there was a lot of hope for Snider: he was still young, and still had a lot of promise. 2011, we hoped, would be his breakout year.
We were disappointed, of course. Snider was awful to start the season, batting only .184 with 1 home run and 23 strikeouts in 99 plate appearances. He was demoted to AAA at the end of the month, getting a decent-but-not-spectacular wRC+ of 119 during his stay in Vegas. He came back to the Blue Jays in the middle of July, but hit the DL with tendinitis in his wrist in August.
In 2012 spring training, Snider was pitted against teammate Eric Thames in a battle for the starting spot in left field. Many fans (myself included) hoped Snider would win the spot, for the improvement in defense if nothing else. Snider was demoted to minor league camp, though, and Thames got the starting job. Snider once again battled injuries, but was finally called up on July 20, in what would be his final stint with the Blue Jays.
Travis Snider was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Brad Lincoln on July 30, confirming what had felt inevitable for quite some time: Snider would never achieve significant success as a Blue Jay. Since being traded to Pittsburgh, Snider's hit /.250/.324/.328 with 1 home run.
There are so many things I'm going to remember about Snider ("Meats don't clash" probably tops the list). I was never as big a Snider fan as some, but I was still disappointed to see him traded when it felt like he never got a real chance to prove himself. Shi Davidi's three-part series on Snider was revealing, though, and brought some insight into what went wrong during his time in the organization. It's likely that a lot of Snider's problems had their foundation in his lack of confidence, which is frustrating for everyone since the effects of mental issues are hard (if not impossible) to quantify, and can be difficult to overcome.
I truly hope Snider becomes fantastic in Pittsburgh. I hope there are home runs, great catches, and giant steaks in his future.
Kevin Ahrens was drafted by the Blue Jays, 16th overall, in the 2007 MLB draft. Like Travis Snider, Ahrens was drafted out of high school. He received a signing bonus of 1.44 million dollars, and began his career with the GCL Blue Jays, where he hit .230/.339/.321 in 48 games. Sadly for Kevin and for Blue Jays fans, it never got much better than that. He was ranked the #3 prospect (behind Snider and Cecil and ahead of J.P. Arencibia) by Baseball America going into the 2008 season.
Ahrens has not played at a level above high A, and he's been there for parts of four years. His best season (which was not a very good one), came in 2008, where he spent the entire season in Lansing and hit .259/.329/.367 and was exactly league average. His worst was the following year in Dunedin, where he posted a line of .215/.282/.302 and a wRC+ of 70. Welp.
So what went wrong with Kevin Ahrens? Pretty much everything, by the looks of it. He's had high strikeout rates and low walk rates for most of his career, and has never hit well for average or power. He is a bust in every sense of the word, and that's okay. Busts happen. The stories of players like Travis Snider and Dustin McGowan are far more disappointing for me.
And that's all for this week's dive into masochistic memories. Join me next time for more depressing tales of prospect fails!