Image credit: (Photo by Eddie Kelly)
“He’s a full-throttle type of guy.”
That’s how Double-A San Antonio pitching coach Jeff Andrews introduced 19-year-old lefthander Robby Snelling.
Drafted out of high school in the supplemental first round in 2022, Snelling pitched at three levels in 2023 pro debut, concluding his season with a Game 1 start in the Texas League semifinals against Amarillo.
“He’s unique, always with eyes wide open and enthusiasm,” Andrews said. “He’s just different. You always want your players to meet you halfway.
“You know, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking. Here’s what we’re trying to do. Now we need you to put the effort in behind it.’ This guy goes 75% or 100% of the way. His openness to instruction, his openness to video, the analysts, the movement guys. He finds value everywhere.”
Snelling’s season began in Low-A Lake Elsinore, where he worked with pitching coach Thomas Eshelman. A 2015 second-rounder who pitched in MLB, Eshelman retired last season and provided Snelling with important early instruction that set the tone for his season.
“I think Lake Elsinore was a great spot for me,” Snelling said, “because at that point, I will admit, I didn’t really have any general idea how to be a pitcher.
“I’d go out and throw the ball, but the knowledge behind how to truly understand hitters, how to break down hitters and approach, it wasn’t completely there yet. Tom helped me get there.”
Snelling went 11-3 this season with a 1.82 ERA. He struck out 118 and walked 34 in 103.2 innings. He allowed just four home runs in 22 starts. His ERA combined with his workload puts him in rare company.
See where Snelling rankings among the top prospects in San Diego’s system.
For his outstanding season and upside potential, Snelling is the second-ever Baseball America Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Snelling also won the Padres’ 2023 Minor League Player of the Year award.
Since 2000, just seven teenage minor league pitchers have recorded a sub-2.00 ERA in 100 innings or more. Snelling is joined on the list by Cole Hamels (2003), Will Inman (2006), Madison Bumgarner (2008), Michael Piñeda (2008), Jose Fernandez (2012) and Andrew Painter (2022). Painter and Snelling were the only two to reach Double-A. Painter was Baseball America’s 2022 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Snelling found success at each minor league stop with remarkable consistency. He went five innings or more in 17 of 22 starts, plus four innings in his lone Texas League playoff start.
The lefthander’s ability to handle a sizable workload and maintain his potency deep into his first professional season points to work done off the field. Snelling credited an alteration in workout approaches last offseason that helped drive his success in 2023.
“I went into the offseason with my first real focused offseason of my life,” said Snelling, who was busy with football in the fall and winter at Reno’s McQueen High. “I went to (the Padres’) December strength camps, and then took a few weeks off after that. Everything after that was feeling out, “OK, what do I need to do to be ready for spring training, with the goals I have in mind?’ ”
Snelling praised the Padres’ strength and conditioning staff outlining a series of workouts to set him up for success.
“If I had been left to my own devices, I would have gone back to what I was doing in football,” Snelling said. “Because in my mind, I would think, ‘Being strong is good. And if you go into spring training stronger than everyone else, that would be a good thing.’ In reality, that’s not the right way to view it.
“It’s about being strong in the right places and being mobile. This is something I came to learn this season.”
Andrews recalled two instances during the season where Snelling took instruction and made adjustments with excellent results.
Snelling learned a slide step to quicken his times to home with speedy runners on base. He shaved more than a half second off his time to home and was able to implement his slide step in the final series of the season against Springfield and minor league stolen base champion Victor Scott II.
The second adjustment was a change made by Snelling himself. After pitching out of the stretch all season, he returned to a full windup he used in high school over his final three starts.
“We had switched to the stretch to help me get used to throwing from it, so I’d be prepared for when runners were on base,” Snelling said. “Despite throwing exclusively from the stretch in games, I had continued to throw out of the windup in every bullpen (session) this season.”
Along the way Snelling altered his changeup grip and found the best version of his offspeed pitch to date. Like most prep power pitchers, he had little occasion to throw a changeup to high school hitters.
“(My changeup) was a few miles per hour off my fastball and didn’t move as well as I wanted it to,” Snelling said. “So that was a huge emphasis going into (2022) instructs and then spring training, and then throughout the season.”
Snelling said he used one grip for the first two months of the season before finding a grip he preferred in bullpen sessions.
“It got to the point that by the end of the year I was as confident throwing my changeup as I was with my fastball or curveball. It became a strikeout pitch for me.”
Now, Snelling is comfortable throwing any of his three pitches in any count. He has the confidence to throw his power curveball—an 81-83 mph pitch with slurvy shape—nearly as often as his fastball when behind in the count.
He pounds the zone with his low-to-mid-90s fastball that features an above-average combination of ride and run.
Over the course of the 2023 season, Snelling didn’t just produce on the stat sheet. He made meaningful strides in game preparation and training, while enhancing his pitching savvy.
That’s the sort of player development that separates good pitching prospects from great ones.