Snider sent to Blue Jays' Minor League camp
Thames will begin 2012 season as starting left fielder for Toronto
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The battle for the starting job in left field is officially over, as the Blue Jays announced Sunday afternoon that Travis Snider has been optioned to the Minor Leagues.
Snider was competing against incumbent Eric Thames in left field, and despite a strong spring, will start the year with Triple-A Las Vegas.
David Cooper, Yan Gomes, Jon Diaz and Chris Woodward were also sent to Minor League camp on Sunday. The Blue Jays have 30 players remaining in the Major League portion of Spring Training.
"The way I would expect him to, like a pro," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said when asked how Snider took the news. "He's always handled himself that way. It's one of those things, both guys played well, and then combining last year, the performance, the way Eric played, it was just one of those things where we had to make a decision one way or the other.
"This doesn't mean it's permanent -- this could change at any time. Just because one guy starts the year doesn't mean it couldn't change at any time. So Travis is going to be ready."
Snider, who had left the ballpark by the time the announcement was made, entered Spring Training in contention for the starting job, but it was an uphill battle. Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell maintained that Thames' strong performance in 2011 would have to be taken into consideration, and ultimately, it was his job to lose.
Snider did everything he could to put pressure on Toronto to put him on the 25-man roster. Snider hit .271 with four home runs and a team-high 16 RBIs in 17 games.
Snider, through hard work during the offseason, also unveiled improved mechanics at the plate. A lower hand position in his batting stance allowed the native of Kirkland, Washington, to drive pitches that previously would have been unhittable in his former stance.
"With these types of meetings, they're not necessarily long," Anthopoulos said after being asked if Snider was surprised by the decision. "We have meetings before camp, and he knew what the criteria was going in, and either way, the encouraging thing is he is getting better and he is getting right.
"His swing is better, he's had good at-bats ... I think the changes he made to his swing really helped him, so he has to just continue doing it. And the minute we need to make a change, or we have a need, he's going to be right there waiting for us."
Toronto's roster decision ultimately came down to the performance each player had in 2011. Snider began the year as the Blue Jays' starting left fielder, but he lost the job after hitting .182 with five extra-base hits in the first 25 games. He returned later in the season for 24 games and hit .260 with an OPS of .682 before again being sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas.
That paved the way for Thames, who responded by hitting .262 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs in 95 games. He followed that up this spring by hitting .333 with one home run and seven RBIs in 18 games.
"They both had great springs," Anthopoulos said. "You take that and you combine what happened last year, it all adds up. If somebody had just fallen on his face in Spring Training, maybe it would have changed things a little bit, but last year was going to count."
The departure of Cooper, Woodward, Diaz and Gomes from camp did not come as a surprise. None of the four had been given much of a chance to make the team and likely will all begin the season in Las Vegas.
Toronto has five more cuts to make, and two jobs are up for grabs. Veteran Omar Vizquel is competing against Luis Valbuena and Mike McCoy for the utility infielder spot, while Dustin McGowan, Aaron Laffey and Kyle Drabek are in the mix for the final spot in the starting rotation. Top pitching prospect Drew Hutchison is also still in camp, but he isn't considered a strong candidate.
"We're going into the last week of Spring Training ... we want to start getting guys nine innings and getting them everyday at-bats, back to back," Anthopoulos said. "We were going to make the decision once we knew which way we were going to go ahead and do it. There's no point to drag it out."