Pirates OF Snider finally in swing of things

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — If Travis Snider wants to have a long and productive career as a major league hitter, he's probably going to have to buy a new set of golf clubs.

When he showed up for spring training in 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays, Snider believed he was set for a breakout year. He had corrected flaws in his swing mechanics and was starting to smooth out the rough edges.

Snider played in a charity golf tournament then played two more rounds a couple of days later. In the process, he strained an intercostal muscle, which shut him down for two weeks.

“Swinging right-handed as a golfer and being a left-handed (baseball) hitter, you don't realize how much rotational muscle gets built up for the left-handed swing,” Snider said. “That was a wake-up call for me. Now, I try to limit my golf outings. I still tee off righty ... but I'm thinking of picking up some left-handed clubs.”

By the time Snider was healthy again, he'd lost all the progress he'd made at the plate. The Jays optioned him to Triple-A to completely rebuild his swing.

That began a two-year odyssey during which Snider spent countless hours in the cages, suffered more injuries and was traded to the Pirates. This spring — finally — Snider thinks he's ready for that breakthrough season.

“It's about coming into your own, maturing as a man and building your career,” he said. “At the end of the day, I've got to sign the check for every swing I take.”

Snider's battle with his swing mechanics actually began in 2009, when he was a 20-year-old rookie. Snider hit for a high average with good power in the minors, and his .301 average in a late-season callup in 2008 heartened Blue Jays management.

But, a couple of weeks into the 2009 season, Snider started being late on pitches and his numbers tumbled. He was sent back to the minors — the first of his four up-and-down seasons with Toronto.

Simplifying his swing, removing extra movement, resolved the timing issues. In 2010, Snider adjusted his stance and stood a bit more upright.

“I was looking forward to taking what I had built and running with it,” he said.

That changed after the golfing injury. Snider said he was “completely lost at the plate” and thoroughly discouraged when he went back to Triple-A to work with hitting coach Chad Mottola.

Every day for three months, Snider and Mottola worked in the cages. Snider lowered his hands from above his head to a more relaxed position near his chest. He spread his legs wider in his stance. And, every day, he took hundreds of swings.

About a month before the end of the 2011 season, Snider had swung so much he had tendinitis in both wrists. The Blue Jays sent him home.

“It actually was a good mental break for me,” Snider said. “I kind of regrouped after everything that had happened the previous couple of years.”

The Blue Jays still were not convinced, though, and sent Snider back to the minors to start last season. They became believers when he hit .335 with 13 homers at Las Vegas. At the end of July, the Pirates gave up former first-rounder Brad Lincoln to acquire Snider.

A hamstring injury limited Snider to 128 at-bats with the Pirates. But he reported to spring camp fully healthy and ready to work with new hitting coach Jay Bell.

“I'm not here to change guys' stances, change their swings and that kind of stuff,” Bell said. “I'm going to take them right where they're at and hopefully apply an approach that allows them to be the best they can. If there are some minor adjustments we need to make, then we'll tweak them. Hopefully, I can help them from a mental standpoint so they can progress further.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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