ST. PETERSBURG — For a No. 7 overall pick, taken ahead of Barry Zito and Ben Sheets in the 1999 draft, Kyle Snyder didn't turn out — due to a series of injuries and inconsistencies — to be a very good major-league pitcher.
But those experiences are among the reasons the Rays are confident he will be an extremely good major-league pitching coach.
In promoting Snyder after arranging the mutually agreed-upon, unexpected departure of highly successful Jim Hickey, the Rays are betting heavily that the personal style, communication skills and pitching acumen he showed at Triple A will allow them to maintain the success they've had and need to remain competitive.
"He connects with pitchers in whatever way is necessary to help them get better," manager Kevin Cash said. "And that has been glaring throughout the last three years of his work."
Snyder, 40, figured to have a long successful career with the Royals coming out of the University of North Carolina in 1999 — having wisely passed three years earlier on signing with the Devil Rays out of Sarasota Riverview High — but Tommy John surgery and then a torn labrum provided significant roadblocks.
And when he was healthy, and got that 6-foot-8 frame and right arm synched up, he wasn't particularly effective, spending only one full season in the majors. That happened to be 2007 with the Red Sox, though, as he did well enough as a middle reliever to be part of the World Series-winning squad, earning a ring, plus forming a relationship that would pay off later with a part-time backup catcher named Kevin Cash.
In totality, the ups and downs as a player proved beneficial after he decided to start the next chapter of his career in 2012.
"I would say to some degree I think it has helped me become the pitching coach that I am," Snyder said. "The experiences that I've gone through, the frustrations that I've dealt with."
More importantly, Snyder said, is learning how to relate to each pitcher in his charge on a personal basis, "being able to speak their language," identifying what motivates and frustrates them, how they need to be handled.
"I really try to prioritize the human being," Snyder said. "The building of a relationship, understanding that establishing trust takes time. There is an element of trial and error to a lot of what we do as coaches, and without that trust it's going to be difficult to connect and reach guys and/or influence their careers, which is the common goal."
Pitchers who worked under Snyder, who moved up from short-season Class A to full-season to a coordinator's gig before three years at Durham, rave about the job he does.
"It's simple: look at the numbers," said top prospect Brent Honeywell. "Look what he produces. Look at his minor-league career. He knows what he's doing."
Also, how he does it, whether it's mechanical adjustments, confidence reconstruction or both.
"Everything is individualized for each pitcher he works with," said right-hander Jake Faria. "There is nothing cookie-cutter about him."
Also, right-hander Ryne Stanek said, "he's very good at relaying information, and knowing when somebody needs to be left alone. He has a very good feel how to help.''
Cash said they hear that a lot.
"The feedback that he receives from our pitchers when they are in Triple A, whether it is a rehab guy, whether it is a guy making his debut, whether it is a guy that has experience going up and down, has been overwhelmingly positive," he said.
As many nice things as Cash said about Hickey, considered among the game's best during his 11 years with the Rays, he made clear he has a significant comfort factor with Snyder, going back to playing in Boston.
"There's a history there, and fortunately for me coming into the organization (in 2015) I felt like we kind of picked up right where we left off," Cash said. "Throughout the last three years Kyle and I have had countless conversations talking about young pitchers coming up," many of whom will be part of the staff in 2018. Snyder said he is well aware of the "enormous shoes" and "daunting task" in replacing Hickey, who had one year left on his contract and is expected to sign with another team.
"I'm excited about the challenge," he said. "My main goal is just to build off the environment and philosophy that he's created here the last 10 years, and it led to some of the most successful pitching staffs in baseball."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.