4:19pm: Snell is expected to be active only for one start, manager Kevin Cash tells reporters, including Topkin (Twitter link).
2:09pm: The Rays will promote one of the game’s top pitching prospects, left-hander Blake Snell, to start Saturday at Yankee Stadium, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). Snell, the No. 52 overall pick in the 2011 draft, will be making his Major League debut.
While he wasn’t an overly heralded prospect until last season, Snell’s 2015 was simply too dominant to ignore. The Washington native began the season at Class-A Advanced and had a meteoric rise to the Triple-A level, beginning with an incredible streak of 46 scoreless innings to open the year. All told, Snell’s 2015 season culminated with a microscopic 1.41 ERA with 10.9 strikeouts and 3.6 walks per nine innings pitched. That showing prompted Baseball America and MLB.com each to rank him as the No. 12 prospect in baseball, while ESPN’s Keith Law rated him 14th and Baseball Prospectus penciled Snell in at No. 21 on their list.
Snell is said to have the upside of a No. 2 starter now that his command has taken several steps forward (he averaged 6.6 and 4.4 walks per nine innings in 2013 and 2014, respectively). The 6’4″ lefty has a 92-94 mph fastball that can reach 96-97 mph and complements that plus heater with a plus changeup and a plus slider in addition to a curveball that BA calls “more of a supplement to his arsenal than a true weapon.” Law writes that Snell is probably a No. 3 even if his command doesn’t take a further step forward, and he could become one of the 10 best lefties in baseball.
Because Snell will have spent the first 20 days of the season at the minor league level, he’ll be able to earn a maximum of 163 days of Major League service this season. That’s assuming he doesn’t make a return trip to the minors, which is far from a given. It’s also worth noting that the 20 days he’s spent in the minors is the minimum he could’ve spent at that level without retroactively receiving the service time he’s missed by being optioned to open the season. In essence, Saturday then marks the first day that Snell could be recalled without the Rays running the risk of losing a year of club control. In the event that Snell does not return to the minors this year, the Rays would be able to control him through the 2022 season, though he would still qualify as a Super Two player and be arbitration eligible four times instead of the more typical three. Snell is already on the 40-man roster, so Tampa Bay will only need to clear space for him on the active roster. He’s begun the season with a 2.41 ERA and a 21-to-7 K/BB ratio in 14 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level.
Whether Snell sticks with the big league club remains to be seen. As Topkin notes, the promotion was necessitated by the need for a fifth starter after Erasmo Ramirez was needed in relief, so there may not be a permanent spot in the rotation — especially with right-hander Alex Cobb making his way back from Tommy John surgery. It’s conceivable, though, that Snell would be impressive enough to earn a lengthier look than merely one start with a strong showing, leaving Ramirez in a swing-man role while Cobb continues his rehab.