Snyder cemented at first and progressing
O's prospect has a new outlook at Spring Training in '10
SARASOTA, Fla. -- If this had happened last spring, Brandon Snyder probably wouldn't be standing in front of his locker smiling like he was following Monday's game.
Snyder's day at the plate -- 0-for-2 -- combined with a hitless spring (0-for-8 in five games) would have been more than enough to leave the 23-year-old in a fit of frustration, worried about the impression he was making at Major League camp.
"Last year I was a wreck," Snyder said. "I was nervous; I was disappointed in how much I didn't get to play."
"And it was really tough to kind of deal with that. But once I kind of learned what's going on and everything, and coming into this year, it's just so relaxing."
Part of that peace comes in the comfort of knowing where he fits in the Orioles' plans. A shortstop in high school, Snyder was selected by Baltimore in the first round of the '05 Draft as a catcher. Shoulder problems forced him to the corner-infield spots and Snyder spent a good portion of last spring taking balls at first base and doing daily extra work at third.
That devotion wasn't lost on manager Dave Trembley, but the Orioles manager could see the physical and mental wear of asking Snyder to play both positions. So could infield coach Juan Samuel, who thought Snyder's reactions at first were far better than the hot corner.
"Basically Trembley called me into his office last year at Spring Training and was like, 'You can't keep doing this'," Synder recalled. "And I'm like, 'What?' He's like, 'You can't keep taking 500 ground balls a day, you're dead." And I'm like, "Yeah, but I have to be good at both [positions].'"
That's when Trembley set the mandate: Snyder's future was at first.
"[I told him] your days of thinking about catching, your days of taking ground balls at third are over," Trembley said of his conversation with Snyder.
"Anytime you make it as clear as you possibly can, eliminate all the distractions, let guys know exactly what the task at hand is, it's got to make it easier for them," Trembley said. "I think that's what they want."
Snyder wasn't relieved. At least, not initially. Instead, he took that conversation with Trembley to mean the organization didn't believe in his abilities at third base. But with former two-time All-Star Melvin Mora cemented as the club's '09 third baseman, Samuel convinced Snyder otherwise.
"We didn't know if Melvin was a mainstay," Samuel said of Mora, who is now with the Rockies. "With our situation at first base, the way to make it the big leagues quicker was over there."
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Samuel told Snyder if he made the move successfully, he could be around for a long time at first base.
"And I think he got it," Samuel said. "In the offseason, he went out and he told me he worked so much on defense and it shows. He looks so comfortable now at first, it's unbelievable."
While much has been made this spring of free-agent newcomer Miguel Tejada's transition from shortstop to third and former third baseman Garrett Atkins' move back to first, Snyder's defense has largely flown under the radar.
"The fact that I'm not getting attention about it, I think, is a good thing," Snyder said. "It's something that [the Orioles] are comfortable with, me playing defense right now, so they just kind of want to back off and let me play."
Trembley says he sees a more mature Snyder in the clubhouse and on the field, crediting his professionalism and growing experience.
"It's not new to him anymore, being here," Trembley said. "I think he was -- like all the young guys that come to camp are -- kind of awestruck. I don't see that about him anymore."
Snyder committed four errors in 50 games at first base for Norfolk last season, posting a .991 fielding percentage in his first taste of Triple-A ball in the second half of the season. A successful Arizona Fall League, in which he hit .354 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 17 games, showcased what has never been in question: Snyder's bat.
One of the Orioles' top position-player prospects, Snyder's batting average increased with each successive move from Class A to Double-A before taking a slight dip at Triple-A, to .248, in the second half of last season. Still, Snyder combined for 12 homers and 88 RBIs between Norfolk and Bowie last year, and says the extra emphasis on his defense has helped his bat.
"Having to worry about [things like], 'OK, How am I going to play this ball here?' And focusing on defense and everybody telling me that I can't play first base, dealing with all that, it helped me," Snyder said.
"It was like, well first of all I can play first base I'm going to show you that. And second of all, I can just relax and kind of have fun with [hitting] and do what I've always been able to do."
"There's no part of me that thinks I can't do this at the highest level," Snyder said.
With Atkins at first base, Snyder is most likely headed to Triple-A to start the season, where the Orioles will keep a careful eye on his progression.
"We hope that [he's in the Majors sooner rather than later]," Samuel said. "At the same time, it's a long year. You never know, guys get injured, things happen, but I think he's ready. I think he's ready."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.