Despite subpar 2011, Snider remains positive

Despite subpar 2011, Snider remains positive

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Through all the hardships Travis Snider had to endure in 2011, keeping a positive state of mind might have been the biggest challenge.

Dealing with perceived failure can often be a daunting task, especially for someone who faced very few road blocks en route to the Major Leagues. How a player responds to that situation can often be the difference between making it or having a career stuck in limbo.

For Snider, the past year was a rude awakening, but rather than completely forgetting about the struggles, he'd rather use them to his advantage and learn from the previous mistakes.

"Taking the positives out of it is really the most important thing for me," Snider said while reflecting back on last year. "I've always been overly competitive in a sense. I never dealt with a lot of baseball adversity growing up, and there were a lot of things off the field that I felt like I handled the right way, but I think as we grow as players, and as people, you have to be able to make those adjustments on the fly.

"You can't get caught up in the logistics, the business side of things, and instead really concentrate on what you can control. That's every day, go in there, getting your routine established, working through that routine and making the changes as you go."

It's sometimes easy to forget that Snider is just 24 years old -- an age when most players are still getting ready to make their big league debut. Snider already has parts of four seasons in the big leagues under his belt, but 2011 likely was his most difficult one to date.

Snider began the year with lofty expectations, but the desired results never surfaced. First, there was a rib-cage injury in February 2011 that delayed his start to Spring Training. Then there was a slow start in April that resulted in a surprising demotion to the Minor Leagues after just 25 games.

To further complicate matters, after Snider was sent down, he was tasked with overhauling his mechanics at the plate. The goal was to open up Snider's stance, lower his hands and become less top heavy.

In the past, Snider pulled off with the front side of his body in an effort to drive the ball. The barrel of the bat was being manipulated with the way his body moved instead of allowing his hands to do most of the work. The stance has since opened up, his hands have dropped and the hope is that he will be able to drive the ball with more regularity to all parts of the field.

That will be key this spring, as Snider is in a heated competition with Eric Thames for the starting job in left field. The battle is expected to continue until the final week of the Grapefruit League season, and while it could go either way, manager John Farrell has been clear about what Snider needs to do to win the spot.

"The consistency, the production, the swing and how he maintains that swing [are] really how we're going to continue to monitor in Travis' case," Farrell said.

"We want the best player in that position, and as Travis has come up and done very well, it has been the consistency of that production that has been a little elusive. ... So he's well aware, as is Eric, of the situation that he comes into and it will be a battle."

Farrell's honest assessment of Snider is one that holds some weight, but the knock against the organization is that Snider hasn't received an extended opportunity to showcase his talents at the big league level.

Snider, who has never appeared in more than 82 games in one season with the Blue Jays, was expected to become a full-time player for the first time of his career last year, but his .184 average in April changed all of that and he ended up in Las Vegas.

The native of Kirkland, Wash., returned to the big leagues on July 4, and the original belief was that he would be there for the rest of the season. Snider responded by hitting .357 with two homers, 17 RBIs and 11 extra-base hits in his first 13 games. He appeared to have figured things out only to then go through an 11-game stretch that saw him hit just .136.

That bump in the road prompted yet another demotion to the Minors. At the time, Snider was understandably disappointed with the short leash, but looking back, he chooses to take the high road and focus on areas for personal improvement rather than shift any of the blame onto the organization.

"I had discussions with John and [general manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] about the second stint, but when you look at the decision that had to be made, I understand," Snider said. "With where I was at, the competition I had at that particular time, there wasn't a whole lot of argument from me. Not being so concerned with why, versus how are we going to get back, how are we going to get this thing right, how are we going to get consistent?

"Consistency is the key. The mind-set wasn't bitterness or anger towards anybody, but as an opportunity to go down and get things figured out. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and yeah, I wish I could say I had 600 at-bats, but that's the way the cards fell. At the end of the day, there are no guarantees in life, there are no guarantees in this business and you have to work for everything you get. That's going to continue to be my mind-set going forward."

Snider's state of mind was a frequent topic of conversation during a lengthy interview at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. He has maintained an even-keeled approach, and one of the people most responsible for that is Triple-A Las Vegas hitting coach Chad Mottola.

Mottola had been through similar struggles in his career, and he knew how to relate to the 14th overall pick of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. The two continued working on Snider's new approach at the plate toward the end of last season, and there has now been enough repetition that it's no longer a work in progress, but something that ideally can be used to his advantage in 2012.

"I think what Chad and I established was an end product of a lot of adjustments and changes that I've been trying to make over the last two-to-three years," Snider said. "I finally got my hands into a lower position to start, which for me coming out of high school and all the way through the Minor Leagues, I held my hands high.

"It really took a whole summer in Vegas to get the repetitions needed to find the level of comfort to go into the cage every day, as well as practice and carry it over into games. ... It was a good platform for us to build off of going into the offseason and really understanding where I needed to be in my offseason training -- in the cages as well as coming down here knowing what I needed to accomplish each day."

Now the real test begins as Snider once again looks for a breakout season. First, he'll have to make the team. While that will be no easy task, he appears up for the challenge.

If things don't work out, Snider still has one option year left on his contract, which means he can be sent to the Minors without being exposed to waivers. Right now, though, that possibility is the last thing on his mind.

The goal is to break north with the rest of his teammates, and he has a pretty clear idea of what needs to be done in order to make that a reality.

"It's a matter of maximizing what I need to accomplish to be in game shape and game ready starting on March 3 when we get this thing rolling and going one day at a time," Snider said. "Putting into it what I can each and every day to get the most out of myself when I step on the field and not worrying about if I have three hits or four strikeouts -- you're going to have those days. But at the end [of the day], they're going to make a decision and it's their decision to make."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.