Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Brandon Snyder Turns Corner for the Orioles

Nice piece of Centreville's own Brandon Snyder, who was a first-round pick in 2005 out of Westfield High. The article written by Zachary Ball of Bleacher Report:

Flashback to June 7, 2005, the First-Year Player Draft.

The Baltimore Orioles have the 13th pick in the draft. Future Major League stars Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmermann, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and Cameron Maybin have all been taken in the previous 12 picks.

The best remaining player on the board is debatable. Outfielder Trevor Crowe is still available. As is John Mayberry Jr. from Stanford. Speedy outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is still on the board, as well as hard throwing right hander Matt Garza.

Most mock drafts have the Orioles taking a look at 6'7'' Chris Volstad. So many options. Who do they take?

Volstad was considered one of the top rated pitching prospects in the draft. He featured a mid to upper 90's fastball with a decent changeup and a hard breaking curve.

The wild card on the board, however, is a little known catcher from Westfield High School Virginia named Brandon Snyder. He's an athlete who played a little bit of shortstop early on, but switched to behind the plate where he showed a knack for the defensive side of the game.

On offense, he was a force. In his senior year at Wesfield, he maintained a .500 average while knocking in 29 runs. He received a full scholarship to LSU, but when the Orioles drafted him with the 13th pick, Snyder turned down LSU's offer to play pro ball.

Flash forward to April 22, 2009. Chris Volstad is 2-0 in three starts for the Florida Marlins. Matt Garza is fresh off an 11-win season in which he helped lead the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series. Ellsbury is coming off a 50-steal season with the Red Sox.

And Brandon Snyder? Well, if you ask him, he's right where he should be. More importantly, he's where he wants to be.

After signing his first professional contract back in '05, Snyder was assigned to Bluefield, hardly a glorious stop for a player making a few million dollars more than his teammates, but a good place to start for an 18-year-old straight out of high school.

In addition to catching, Snyder spent at least one day a week testing out his range at third base. Whichever position he played, it surely didn't affect his hitting. In 44 games, he notched 39 hits, eight doubles, and eight homers, while driving in 35 runs, scoring 26 himself.

Throw in seven stolen bases and Snyder appeared to be on track to a promotion, which he got toward the end of the season.

Snyder appeared in eight games for Aberdeen, the Orioles new short-season affiliate. He was even better there, knocking 11 hits in eight games with six RBI and a .393 average.

More impressive was Snyder's knack for the strike zone. At two levels, his walk-to-strikeout ratio was a very good 30:43, more than impressive for a player months removed from high school.

The year 2006 began with much promise, with Snyder set to advance a level to Delmarva—quite an honor for such a young player.

It looks like the promotion may have come a little too soon though, as Snyder struggled to keep his average above the Mendoza line.

After suffering through 38 games in which he hit a whopping .194, showing none of the plate discipline he showed at Bluefield or Aberdeen, Snyder struck out 55 times with only 9 walks.

Something was wrong. Snyder wasn't hitting the ball with any authority and was chasing pitches way out of the zone.

The Orioles, thinking they may have rushed Snyder a bit, sent him back to Aberdeen to see if the problem was mental and allowed him to regain some confidence in his game.

Whatever the O's hoped for, they didn't get.

Snyder was even worse for the Ironbirds than he was in Delmarva. In 34 games, he hit only .228 with only 10 extra base hits, only one home run, five walks, and 43 strikeouts.

Discouraged, the Orioles sent Snyder for a check up. After much debate over what injury Snyder was suffering from, or if he was even suffering from anything at all, a diagnosis came down: Snyder had a torn labrum.

Disappointed, the O's shut Snyder down for the season.

The following season brought new hope for Snyder. In 2007, he would repeat the season at Delmarva, and the O's were hoping they would see the Snyder of old.

To take some of the pressure off of him as well as to ease the pressure on his arm, the O's moved him from behind the plate as stuck him at first base.

Snyder started the season off slowly, and many in the Orioles circle were beginning to use the "B" word, as in bust. But as the season wore on, Snyder began to heat up.

After the All-Star break, he was unstoppable.

He did suffer a few nicks and scrapes over the course of the season, but all in all, he made it through the 2007 campaign relatively healthy. He finished the season with a .283 average and knocked 11 home runs, driving in 58.

He still showed a propensity to strike out a lot more than he walked, but as the season reached it's end, he showed real progress in terms of plate discipline.

The Orioles were so thrilled with Snyder's progress that they named him their 2007 Comeback Player of the Year. Hardly the award the youngster was hoping for, but a recognition of his perseverance and hard work nonetheless.

The Orioles also rewarded Snyder with a trip to the Hawaiian Winter League, where he raked at a .378 clip, leading the league.

Building on the confidence he gained late in the season and in Hawaii, Snyder was bumped up a level to Frederick. Showing a renewed commitment and clearly enjoying playing well for the first time since 2005, Snyder had a stellar season in 2008.

He suffered through an occasional slump but, for the most part, he played very consistently. He finished the season with a .315 average and set career highs with 13 home runs, 80 RBI, 33 doubles, and 70 runs.

He also made progress in the strikeout department, cutting down from 107 to 83. In addition, he played good defense at first base, and even got some playing time at the hot corner.

Snyder showed how far he had come when the Orioles invited him to spring training. It was more of a formality to reward him for his hard work, but Snyder took the honor seriously, notching three hits in seven at-bats.

After some time at the O's minor league camp, Snyder broke camp with the O's Double-A affiliate, Bowie. The season isn't yet a month old, but Snyder has played incredibly well so far, pacing the club with a .370 average, two home runs, and eight RBI.

He makes no bones about it, that the time he spent in big league camp was invaluable telling, "going to Major League camp was one of the greatest things I've ever gotten to do. You learn what it's like to carry yourself as that type of player and have, almost a little bit of swagger in that you know your ability and can trust it."

The journey hasn't been exactly what the O's or Snyder had hoped for, but one thing is sure: Brandon Snyder has got that swagger back, and he is definitely back in the Orioles' long term plans.

Hopefully, he can stay there, and make Westfield High proud.

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