Tag Archives: Blake Snell

Bulls’ Snell recalls blur of MLB debut

DURHAM — Blake Snell remembers last weekend in snapshots.

For two days, his life was a blur.

First, there was a phone call from Durham Bulls manager Jared Sandberg, summoning him to the lobby of their hotel in Norfolk, Va. to tell the 23-year-old southpaw that he was moving up to the big leagues for a spot start the next day in New York.

Within two hours, Snell was packed and headed to the airport. He remembers flying into LaGuardia and sitting in an Uber for an hour as it crawled through the boroughs to Yankee Stadium.

And then? Snell isn’t quite sure.

His memory is full of flashes; of the Rays players in the clubhouse, of manager Kevin Cash on the field, of playing catch before the game.

“It all just went so fast,” Snell said. “It doesn’t even feel like it happened to be honest.”

That’s when his family and friends took over, supplementing his memory by snapping pictures to constantly document the Seattle native’s first trip to the big leagues and the Big Apple.

“I just told them, just take a bunch of pictures because I don’t want to do it,” Snell said. “I’m gonna be pretty busy. So they did all of that and then at the end I got them all. It was pretty cool to see how many pictures I had and what I enjoyed. I’ll never forget it.”

Snell got an extra day’s rest before making his major league debut against the Yankees, putting together a dazzling five-inning performance that included a strikeout of his childhood idol, Alex Rodriguez. That moment flashes in and out of his mind too, but a family member managed to capture the moment forever.

“One of my friends had [a photo] when I struck out A-Rod, a photo of him when he was turned around and looking and arguing about it,” said Snell, who struck out six and only allowed one run on two hits in his MLB debut. “It’ll probably go somewhere in my house. Growing up, I was like ‘A-Rod is a god.’ I always thought he was the best player in the world. So I when I got to face him, I was like, ‘This is crazy.’

“It’s at the back end of his career, he’s not like in his prime, but he’s still a god. I’m gonna say that. It was really cool to see, to be able to do that and face him.”

And then, as soon as the weekend transpired, it was over, and Snell rejoined his Triple-A club in Durham.

The trip to the big leagues was a relief, a weight lifted off of the organization’s top pitching prospect. Now, he’s just focused on getting back in the groove with his first start since rejoining the team earlier this week. In Friday’s loss, Snell pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on four hits while striking out six. But with any luck, he’ll be back in the majors soon enough, with a little more time to document his achievement.

“Hopefully it helps him relax a little bit because he’s not be wondering when he’s going to get called up or anything like that,” Sandberg said. “He got called up, and now he’s back here. His time is definitely coming. The way he pitched up there, his time is coming.

Rays calling up Blake Snell, set to start in Yankee Stadium

Well, that didn’t take long.

Blake Snell was sent down to the Durham Bulls near the end of Spring Training, but the Tampa Bay Rays’ No. 1 prospect is already getting the call to the majors, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The 23-year-old southpaw has dominated yet again at the Triple-A level, going 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 21 strikeouts and seven walks in 14 1/3 innings during his first three starts with the Bulls. That comes just a year after he was named Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today last season.

“I don’t see him repeating as Minor League Player of the Year again because he won’t be there long,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said. “I see him being too good for the Rays to ignore. Obviously we’re pretty high on him and can see him developing even further this year.

“The Rays have always been deliberate and slow-moving with their promotion of pitchers, but it seems to work.”

Snell has more than earned the call, but it might not be permanent. The Rays are currently in the midst of a nine-game stretch in consecutive days and have a need for a fifth starter. Erasmo Ramirez, normally fifth in the rotation, was used in relief Thursday against the Boston Red Sox.

Saturday will be a huge spot start for Snell, who will face the New York Yankees in New York. Oh, and the probable pitcher opposing him will be Masahiro Tanaka.

No pressure, right? Snell doesn’t seem nervous about the spot start.

“Can’t have dreamed of a better way,” Snell told Topkin. “It’s really such an amazing time for me. And I’m really fortunate to be in this situation.”


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Meet the newest Durham Bulls stars set to make the MLB leap

DURHAM, N.C. – Blake Snell didn’t change anything on the mound this offseason. But the Tampa Bay Rays top prospect is always looking to improve, so he let go of something he holds near and dear in order to get better.

“Ice cream. I love it to death, so RIP to that,” Snell said with a smile. “I’m obsessed, so it kind of sucks.”

Snell’s true love is of the cookies-and-cream variety. It’s hard to imagine the Bulls’ ace getting better because of just dessert — he’s coming off a season where he finished 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA. It’s the lowest ERA of any MiLB pitcher since Justin Verlander in 2005 (1.29).

Snell won both the Baseball America and USA Today Minor League Player of the Year honors last year; the last player in the Rays’ system to do so was Wil Myers in 2012, who won MLB Rookie of the Year the following season.

The wiry 23-year-old southpaw could get a decent look at his own top-tier hardware this . After rocketing up from Charlotte to Montgomery to Durham last season, Baseball America editor John Manuel believes he’ll land with the Rays very soon.

“I don’t see him repeating as Minor League Player of the Year again because he won’t be there long,” Manuel said. “I see him being too good for the Rays to ignore. Obviously we’re pretty high on him and can see him developing even further this year.

“The Rays have always been deliberate and slow-moving with their promotion of pitchers, but it seems to work.”

The list of Bulls’ pitchers to excel at the MLB level is distinguished. David Price is a five-time All-Star and 2012 Cy Young Award winner. Chris Archer was named an All-Star last season and is quickly emerging as one of the faces of the MLB.

Snell followed a nearly identical path as the previous two superstars. Both Price and Archer were gradually brought up through the system to maximize both development and Tampa’s control over their contracts.

“I feel like I’m still developing, getting better and have a lot to learn,” Snell said. “I’m just taking all the positives that I can. I feel like it’s good for me to start here and really develop my craft even more. When they think I’m ready, I’ll be ready for it.”

The Bulls second-year manager Jared Sandberg knows the time is coming for Snell, but knows the process is not a quick one.

“He’s got some high expectations this year,” Sandberg said. “He’s more mature this year. Mentally, he knows he’s got to do it again, but he’s not going to put too much pressure on himself to go out there and try to replicate that season in one or two starts.

“He’s a bright star. It’s amazing what he did and hopefully he can duplicate that or do better this year.”

The Bulls’ lineup also presents a major issue for opposing pitchers with both Mikie Mahtook and Richie Shaffer back in Durham. Mahtook played in 41 games in Tampa Bay last season, hitting .295/.351/.619 with nine homers and is likely an injury at the MLB level away from another stint.

Shaffer’s cup of coffee with the Rays didn’t go quite as well. In 88 plate appearances, Shaffer hit .189/.307/.392 with four homers, six RBI and 32 strikeouts. The Charlotte native bought a house in Raleigh during the offseason and trained at NC State to improve his plate approach.

“I think he just needs to maintain confidence,” Sandberg said. “He hit 30 homers and had extended success for the first time in his career. He goes into the offseason and works on what he was able to do last year. He had a good Spring Training and is looking forward to getting off to a good start.”

In total, Shaffer actually hit 26 home runs last year with 72 RBI across Montgomery, Durham and Tampa Bay. The Clemson product also had the highest overall average of his career at .267 after hitting just .222 in the previous season.

Though the numbers have improved, becoming a starting third baseman in Tampa Bay isn’t exactly easy to pull off, with three-time All-Star (and Bulls alum) Evan Longoria manning the position.

Luckily for Shaffer, his versatility could earn him a role on the Rays’ roster again this year. The release of first baseman James Loney – which happens to be Shaffer’s alternate position – leaves a void currently filled by Logan Morrison, who hit .225 last season.

“There’s a spot on the roster, but he still has something to prove,” Manuel said. “I think the valuation question remains: How much contact is he going to make? He’s shown he can hit for power, but he has to be more consistent at that level. Triple-A pitchers are good, but MLB pitchers are so much better.

Although the roster shakeups might pique his curiosity about carving out a starting role at the MLB level, Shaffer isn’t getting his hopes up. Playing both first and third baseman along with getting some starts in the outfield, Shaffer is a versatile chip similar to Ben Zobrist, who played for the Rays from 2006-14.

While Shaffer said his goal is obviously to get to Tampa Bay, he isn’t focusing on where he might fit with the squad.

“At the big-league level, they don’t have much versatility in the lineup, but they want it,” Shaffer said. “It’s tough, because we’re human and you pay attention to roster moves. But If you let that stuff dictate what you do, you’re going to press or feel like you have to do too much.

“My goal is to come out like I did last year and have fun. I was able to achieve my goals in 2015 with that mindset and hope the same will happen this year.”

Bulls open season with win

DURHAM — For most of last season Durham Bulls catcher Luke Maile struggled at the plate.

Until he hit .254 in 22 August games, Maile’s batting average was a dismal .193. He opened the season going just 2-for-22 before going on a seven-game hitting streak in late April.

Behind the plate, he was stellar, throwing out 26 of 77 attempted base stealers, good for 33.8 percent and second best among International League catchers.

Maile started this season on a high note, with 2 RBI and one run in four at-bats from the bottom of the order in the Bulls’ opening day 7-3 win against Charlotte.

“You’re looking for a guy like Luke Maile who was here last year and struggled with the batting average, struggled with the bat, although had some misfortune and bad luck in my opinion,” manager Jared Sandberg said. “Comes out and swings the bat very, very well and drives in a couple runs. That’s great for Luke to get off to the start he did.”

Delayed slightly due to rain and a long opening day ceremony, the Bulls got the season underway in front of 7,710 fans at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

After Charlotte’s Scott Carroll issued a leadoff walk to Daniel Robertson, Cameron Seizter stepped up to the plate and knocked a double into left field, advancing Robertson to third.

Robertson scored a play later as Patrick Leonard singled to center field. Two more runs, including an RBI single by Maile, scored before the Bulls recorded an out. Once Richie Shaffer hit an RBI to plate Maile and score the fifth run of the inning, Carroll was replaced with Chris Volstad.

The Bulls put up two more runs, a ground-rule RBI double by Maile in the third and a RBI single by Shaffer to record seven runs in the season debut.

On the mound, highly touted prospect Blake Snell made his season debut, allowing five hits and two runs in five innings. Snell struck out five and issued one walk.

Snell, named Baseball America’s and USA Today’s 2015 Minor League Player of the Year, warmed up under soggy conditions as rain blew through the area. Despite the unfavorable conditions, Snell bounced back for a solid first outing.

“We were looking at 5 or 80 pitches, whatever came first,” Sandberg said. “He was at 78 pitches. It was a tough battle for him from the start. He was out there warming up in the rain, 10 minute delay to start the game. You’re all amped up to get the season started and everything. He went out there and grinded through very, very nicely.”

The Bulls continue their seven-game home-opening stand with another game against Charlotte Friday night at 7:05.