Prospect Q&A: 'Snellzilla' seeks sequel

Rays' Pitcher of Year determined to deliver another monster season

Blake Snell went 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA in 134 innings as the Rays' top Minor League pitcher. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

By Danny Wild / MiLB.com | March 24, 2016 10:15 AM

The awards, titles and honors for Blake Snell tell the story of the left-hander's incredible 2015 season, but the most telling chapter for the Rays prospect might have come just last month. Tampa Bay was reportedly considering a long-term contract extension for the 23-year-old who has never even spent a day in the Majors.

If the deal actually happens, Snell would become just the second player in big league history to sign an extension before debuting in "The Show." For now, Snell remains a Triple-A asset for the Rays, and both sides are excited about the Seattle native's future.

Tampa Bay's 2011 first-round pick dazzled last year, beginning the season with a 46-inning scoreless streak and advancing three levels while going 15-4 with a Minor League-leading 1.41 ERA in 25 outings. He struck out 163 batters in 134 innings, walked 53 and hit only two men.

"It's just a wow thing," Rays pitching coordinator Dick Bosman told the Tampa Bay Times. "There's so much to like there -- the size, the arm, the stuff. And the other intangibles that we know are the ingredients for the good ones, they're all there too."

Snell pitched 4 2/3 innings with the Major League squad this spring before being reassigned to Triple-A Durham. We caught up with the southpaw last week.

MiLB.com: What are you most looking forward to this season? You enter the year as the Rays' top prospect and you're coming off an award-winning 2015 season.

Blake Snell: I'm looking forward to getting better, that's my biggest focus. Do the most I can do to be ready for the callup when it happens and try to get better every day, just focus on that.

MiLB.com: What has Spring Training been like for you? Tampa Bay recently reassigned you to Minor League camp, but it must have been an exciting few weeks.

Snell: It's been a lot of fun to be here, it hasn't felt like Spring Training. I had a good relationship with the guys when I was there and now that I'm back in Minor League camp, it's still the same. I'm working on what I can do to get back up there.

MiLB.com: How did you find out what actually happens when someone doesn't make the Major League roster in Spring Training? We've all seen Major League, with the dreaded red tag in Charlie Sheen's locker.

Snell: They just brought me into a meeting with all the coaches, the GM. They were all just in a meeting room and they told me what they thought of my spring so far and said, 'We're optioning you down,' but it was kind of cool. They talked about what they liked. It was about a five-, 10-minute conversation.

MiLB.com: Did you have a real expectation of making the big league club this spring?

Snell: Coming into the spring, I was hoping to make the team. I was going in feeling I really had a good shot to make the team, but obviously, they think differently. So I'm going to do what I need to do in Durham, and hopefully, it happens sooner than later.

MiLB.com: What are you most proud of from last season? You were the Rays' Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the second straight season and won the MiLBY as Best Starting Pitcher. You were also voted a Futures Game and Southern League All-Star.

Snell: The consistency. I just stayed consistent the whole year. I felt like I only had one bump in the road with a couple bad starts, but other than that, I felt really consistent. And of course, the Futures Game is something I will remember the rest of my life. It was a big dream of mine to get there and say I was a part of that and pitched.

MiLB.com: You said your success didn't feel real until you walked on the field in Cincinnati at the Futures Game. How did that experience compare to Spring Training with the Major League club this year?

Snell: The Futures Game is a lot different, you've got 40-something thousand fans at that game, everyone is watching it. Being able to go to big league Spring Training, the Futures Game was a lot more memorable for me. Everything that took place before it, the kind of rush that it was, I was just in awe. Big league camp, I didn't feel like I was in awe -- everyone is here getting ready for the season. I see all the big-name guys we have, the five starting pitchers, and that was more of an exciting moment to meet them and see how they carry themselves every day. The Futures Game was ... a great moment to be a part of.

MiLB.com: You started the year with 46 straight scoreless innings in April and May. What was that like, now that you've had some time to reflect?

Snell: It went by really fast. Looking at it now, it's crazy -- 46 is kind of crazy, but at the time, I didn't think it was crazy. I thought, 'I can keep going,' but when it ended, I really thought about it. When the streak ended, I thought I'd pitched one of my best games. It was kind of funny. I was having so much fun and going through that was a good time for me. Everything was finally coming together and I felt like I could pitch. I kept getting better because of it.

MiLB.com: You spoke about changing your diet and how that helped you on the field. Have you changed anything this winter or felt any stronger this spring? Is it hard for a Minor Leaguer to stick to a strict diet during the course of travel and playing?

Snell: I would say during the season it's pretty much impossible to find good food. When the season ended is when I started my diet. When I came in this spring, I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. It helped me a lot. We'll see how this season goes and how it's going to help, but I think it will help me a whole lot.

MiLB.com: We read that you were home-schooled until the last year of high school. What was it like to be on the team there but not be in school during the day?

Snell: I was only home-schooled for my junior year. I ended up getting home-schooled because I wasn't taking school as serious as my mom would have liked me to do. She told me she would do that, but I didn't think she would be serious. She told me, "We're going to give you a year of home school with your brother, and if you do that and you're ready to go back, I'll let you go back." Me and him, we didn't really screw around too much, he wanted to go back. It was a lesson to be learned.

MiLB.com: What do you think you need to work on the most these next couple of months to earn a promotion to Tampa Bay?

Snell: Just staying consistent and getting better. I always feel like if I stay consistent and get better every day, I'll present a strong case to prove I'm ready to get that shot.

MiLB.com: Your name on Twitter and Instagram is "Snellzilla." Have to ask you about the origins of that nickname.

Snell: It was my brother's nickname when he was young and I took it from him. I just kinda took it from him and everyone started calling me it. They're like, "It fits better." It took off from there, it was my social media account name. Now everyone calls me it.

MiLB.com: You just stole it from your own brother?

Snell: My oldest brother. He had it, I was like, "That's mine, I like it more." I was 11 years old. I took it from him and people started calling me it. It kept getting bigger and bigger, and it faded away from him.

MiLB.com: Do you have any routines or superstitions before a start?

Snell: Not that I remember. I mean, I know I do, but I don't remember until the season starts and it's always something different. I'll pick up on something and keep doing it. It's always different every year.

MiLB.com: Favorite baseball movie?

Snell: I guess Bull Durham.

MiLB.com: Did you model yourself after a certain pitcher growing up?

Snell: I always liked Randy Johnson because I was a Mariners fan. And Jamie Moyer, I was amazed at how he was so successful as a pitcher. He was spot-on with that big curveball. He was exciting to watch, to be honest.

Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow his MLBlog column, Minoring in Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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