Tom Jones: Rays made right move sending Blake Snell to minors

Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published May 25, 2017

tom jones' two cents


The Rays took their team photo before Wednesday night's game against the Angels. One player who should have been there was not: pitcher Blake Snell.

In fact, Snell should have been on the mound Wednesday night. It was his turn in the rotation. Instead, the Rays started Erasmo Ramirez. That's because Snell was shipped down to Triple-A Durham a week-and-a-half ago.

So, here we are, in late May, and instead of baffling big-league hitters, racking up victories and carving out a dazzling start to his major-league career, as we all thought he would be doing in late May of this season, Snell's career is on hold. That's why he was wearing a Durham Bulls uniform Wednesday night.

A minor reset or a major concern?

The Rays are hoping it's the former and he will be back before you know it, resuming a can't-miss career. But it just might be the latter and that's what should have the Rays in a cold sweat these days.

This isn't how all this was supposed to go. Snell was supposed to be a future ace, a stopper, the kind of pitcher that starts on opening days and World Series Game 1s. Instead, there are already big doubts and serious concerns about whether Snell will ever be that pitcher.

Of course, it's way too early to give up on a pitcher who is only 24 years old with a grand total of 26 major-league starts. Baseball is full of stories about struggling prospects turning into star pitchers after a couple of do-over trips to the minors. Snell's lone start in Durham so far was encouraging: 12 strikeouts and one run allowed in 51/3 innings.

But there are just enough red flags that make you wonder if Blake is ever going to be the guy the Rays thought he would be. That's why the next few months will go a long way in determining whether or not Snell has a chance to be a star.

There's no question his arm has the stuff to make it in the majors. But does his mind have the right stuff?

Does he work hard enough? Does he have a strong mental makeup? Is he smart enough? Does he hold himself accountable when things go wrong? The answer to each of those questions, based on what we've seen, is no, no, no and no.

This goes far beyond the rotten numbers he has put up this season: the 0-4 record, the 4.71 ERA, the failure to pitch more than six innings in seven of his eight starts. This also goes far beyond figuring out how to command his electric fastball.

This is about Snell taking two steps back for every step forward. This is about a sense of entitlement that didn't sit well with teammates and stunted his development. This is about a pitcher with, arguably, better stuff than anybody in the rotation with, no argument, the poorest results.

But here's what I originally thought:

Wouldn't Snell be better off here in Tampa Bay? Wouldn't it make sense to keep him around Pitcher Whisperer Jim Hickey where he could straighten out the kinks in his delivery? Wouldn't it be prudent to keep him around big-league starters such as Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi, where he could learn what it means to work hard and be a professional?

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Isn't the best place to learn how to be a major-league pitcher in the major leagues, especially for a kid who already has shown he can dominate minor-leaguers?

But now I get why the Rays see it differently. For starters, they have to. Whether or not they are a legitimate playoff contender — I'm not sold on that just yet — doesn't matter. Any team with any self-respect at all must believe they can make the playoffs and cannot afford to keep sending Snell out there to get knocked around every five days.

But there's more to Snell's demotion than what it means in the standings. This is about Snell.

Getting sent to the minors is exactly the attitude adjustment Snell needs. Pitching in the minors is exactly the place to be to work on things without the pressure of results.

This shouldn't and won't be a quick fix type of thing. Snell might not be back anytime soon. The Rays very well could call up another starting pitcher or two before Snell, especially if it's for a spot start here or there.

That's because the Rays must get this right. Snell's next call-up to the majors has to be his last. The worst thing that can happen is for the Rays to rush Snell back up before he is ready and then have to sent him back to Triple A again.

There is no timetable for his return. It might be next week or next month or next season.

All the Rays want is for Snell to be in the team photo for the next 10 years.