In the six years since he was drafted, Brandon Snyder has been moved from shortstop to catcher, then catcher to first base, and lately the Baltimore Orioles have been telling him to keep his old catcher’s gear nearby, just in case. These days, Snyder figures he’ll do whatever it takes to get to, and stay in, the big leagues.
“For me,” he said, “catching is just another thing that can help me stay and help me help the team.”
Snyder was speaking in front of his locker in the Orioles’ clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday, having just been recalled that day from Class AAA Norfolk after the team placed shortstop Cesar Izturis on the disabled list.
A former All-Met Player of the Year out of Westfield High, a first-round pick (13th overall) by the Orioles in 2005, and at one time a fixture on all those top-prospects lists, Snyder, now 24 and preparing to get married (he and his fiancée recently bought a house in Ashburn), realizes he is down to his final chances to stick in the majors and become an impact big leaguer.
“I feel like every year is a make-or-break year,” he said. “But with the years I’ve had in the past, I felt like it’s about time I show [the organization] I can play in Triple-A. I felt like that was the only [level] where I hadn’t [succeeded].”
Indeed, Snyder had hit at every other level, making his biggest impact with a .343/.421/.597 (batting average/on-base/slugging) showing at Class AA Bowie in the first half of 2009, but his power disappeared after being promoted to Norfolk (.248/.316/.355), and it failed to return when he repeated the level in 2010 (.257/.324/.407). When the Orioles signed veteran Derrek Lee this winter to play first base, Snyder figured his big chance had passed.
But new Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was more than a little intrigued by Snyder, inviting him to big league spring training camp and telling him to be prepared to do some catching. Snyder, who hadn’t caught regularly since 2006, welcomed the chance to get back behind the plate.
“It’s something I still take a lot of pride in,” he said, “even though I don’t do it anymore.”
Despite an impressive spring, Snyder — whose father, Brian, spent parts of two seasons in the majors as a left-handed pitcher in the 1980s — was sent back to Norfolk for a third year, but this time his bat showed up, too. After a slow start, he was hitting .276/.342/.455 when he was called up to the majors for the second time (he had a 10-game cup of coffee last September).
“I had a great spring training, and going out of spring training I felt if I could just take the same approach to Norfolk then I’d have a good year,” he said. “Being able to do that is great, and putting myself in a good position is all that mattered.”
While Snyder didn’t do any catching in Norfolk this year, Showalter, when he met with him in Baltimore on Wednesday, told him once again to be prepared to go behind the plate at some point. He may not have the power (his career high of 13 homers came in 2008 in Class A) to be an everyday first baseman in the majors, but as a backup or platoon corner infielder with the ability to serve as a third catcher — and with the possibility of developing more power in his prime years — there is no reason why Snyder shouldn’t still have a promising future in the big leagues.