Naysayers fuel Snell's success in majors
Naysayers fuel Snell's success in majors
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
By Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the 2000 amateur draft, the Pirates picked 15 pitchers -- including Sean Burnett at No. 1 and Chris Young at No. 3 -- before selecting a smallish right-hander named Ian Snell with their 26th-round choice.
Just goes to show you.
"It doesn't matter where you're drafted," Snell said. "It doesn't matter how much money you get. It all depends on how bad you want to make it."
Snell's philosophy about the draft was shaped almost as soon as he arrived in Bradenton, Fla., that summer to begin his professional career.
He looked at how and what the other pitchers threw, and an attitude formed.
"I saw what everybody else had who got drafted before me, and it kind of got under my skin," Snell said. "I told my mom, [Pam], 'I'm going to make it no matter what anybody says about me.' She believed in me, and so did the rest of my family and friends."
Snell rewarded that faith by climbing steadily through the Pirates' minor-league system as other pitchers drafted before him began falling by the wayside.
Second-round pick David Beigh -- gone. Fifth-round pick Jason Sharber -- gone. Seventh-round pick Cole Burzynski -- gone. Twelth-round pick Timothy Keyser -- gone. Sixteenth-round pick David Baum -- gone.
And so it went.
And so went Snell.
He didn't suffer his first professional loss until his third season in 2002.
By then, he was at Class A Hickory, where he was a teammate of John Van Benschoten, the right-hander the Pirates took with their first pick in '01.
The next year, Snell and Van Benschoten jumped to advanced Class A Lynchburg, where they were joined in the rotation in late May by right-hander Bryan Bullington, the Pirates' top draft pick in '02.
While Van Benschoten and Bullington received almost all of the attention, Snell toiled away, sort of under the radar.
And quietly smoldered.
He had heard the Pirates thought he would be a reliever when/if he reached the big leagues because of his small stature -- 5 feet 11, 160 pounds. They didn't believe he would have the stamina to pitch as a starter. That his stature would mean his pitches would stay on the same plane to the hitter too often.
Snell used that as motivation.
"He had something to prove," said Dave Clark, who was the Lynchburg manager in '03. "He wanted to prove to the organization that he was better than [Van Benschoten and Bullington]. He wasn't big enough? You throw 95, 96 [mph], who cares?"
"He carries a grudge," said Ryan Doumit, Snell's catcher at Lynchburg. "That's part of the reason he's so successful. That pushes him to keep going."
Snell was 10-3 with a 3.23 earned run average that season for Lynchburg. After each start -- or anytime in between starts -- he'd talk to Clark, telling him, "I'm the best pitcher in this organization."
"That's just how I am," Snell said. "I don't want people to think I'm arrogant or ****y, but that's just the way I am. That's how I was growing up.
"I always thought I was better than everybody -- but not as a person. I don't think I'm better than everybody as a person. But as an athlete, I think I'm better than everybody, and that's what I thrive on. That's what pushes me."
Doumit and Clark had a hunch that Snell would use that self-produced push to get to the major leagues.
"I thought he was going to be a prime-time, top-of-the-rotation-type, big-league pitcher," Doumit said. "That was something we saw all the way back to [Hickory]. A little 150-pound guy throwing 96 [mph] is just something you really don't see every day."
"He's got [fortitude] -- big [fortitude]," said Clark, now managing Class AA Corpus Christi in the Houston system. "He's my kind of guy. I felt good every time he toed the rubber. I absolutely love the kid.
"I'd watch him in the first couple of innings, throwing 91, 92. If they got a few hits, he jumped it to 94, 95 and say, 'OK, you [guys], hit this!' He put it in another gear."
Snell returned the love he received from Clark.
"I love him, too," Snell said. "He doesn't take any nonsense. He makes you play hard -- even if you don't want to. He wants you to play hard. He wants you to succeed. He pushed me to my limits at Lynchburg. It only made me better."
Late in the '03 season, Snell was promoted to Class AA Altoona, where he was 4-0 (1.96) in six starts.
He spent most of the next season with Altoona (11-7, 3.16 in 26 starts) and even appeared in three games for the Pirates.
Snell thought he had a chance to earn a rotation spot with the Pirates in the spring of 2005 and was a bit miffed when he learned he wouldn't. He took that chip and put it on his shoulder at Class AAA Indianapolis. There, he was 11-4 with a 3.70 ERA and pitched a no-hitter against Norfolk (New York Mets) May 15, walking one and striking out nine against what manager Trent Jewett felt was the best hitting team in the International League.
"They had a lot of veteran [former] big-league players," Snell said. "I told my dad [Juan], 'I think I can go up there and be successful in the big leagues.' He agreed."
His success in Class AAA earned Snell more of a chance with the Pirates that season. He pitched in 15 games -- 10 as a reliever -- and positioned himself for a true chance at a rotation spot last year.
He came to spring training a bit looser, a bit less standoffish, a bit more sure of himself.
"I think he's saying, 'My baseball's going to take care of itself. I'm going to be a part of this team,' " Indianapolis pitching coach Jeff Andrews said that spring.
Snell did become part of that team. He pitched well in spring training, and the injury to Kip Wells also helped his chances.
"I finally got my chance," Snell said. "God forbid, Kip got hurt, [but] it was an opening for me. And I took advantage of it."
To the tune of a 14-11 record in his first full season in the big leagues -- and in the starting rotation.
This season, Snell is back at it.
Wednesday night against Texas, he pitched his first big-league complete game. He's 6-4 with a 2.63 ERA that ranks fourth in the National League.
"All I want to do is win," Snell said. "I don't like to lose. I don't like it. It's just something that I grew up saying -- to myself and to my friends whenever we played a sport together: 'Let's not lose. Let's win. It's fun when you win. It's bad when you lose.' "
Relative to other baseball sayings, Snell's isn't bad.
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