Image credit: Robby Snelling (Justin Packard/Lake Elsinore Storm)
LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — Robby Snelling waited nearly nine months to make his professional debut. When the time came, the Padres No. 5 prospect was ready.
Snelling pitched three scoreless innings with one hit allowed to help lead Low-A Lake Elsinore to a 17-0 win over Visalia (D-backs) in the California League opener Thursday night. The 19-year-old lefthander touched 95 mph on his fastball and retired nine of the 11 batters he faced in his first professional outing before reaching his prescribed pitch limit.
“It felt really good,” Snelling said. “There were definitely nerves going into the game, so I was a little uptight at the beginning. I tried my best not to show it….It was great to just get it off my chest and get this season rolling.”
Snelling, a supplemental first-round pick last year out of McQueen High School in Reno, set a Nevada state high school record with 146 strikeouts last year in only 62.1 innings, breaking the previous record held by Shawn Estes. After being largely limited to workouts at the Padres complex in Peoria, Ariz. following the draft, he picked up right where he left off in his return to game action.
Snelling faced Druw Jones, the second overall pick in 2022 and son of five-time all-star Andruw Jones, to lead off the game and start his pro career. In a showdown of top draft picks, Snelling came out pumping 94-95 mph fastballs, battled through an eight-pitch at-bat and struck out Jones looking at a slider on the inside corner to kick off his pro career with a strikeout.
“It was a big weight off my chest,” Snelling said. “I had a great catcher behind the plate that knew exactly what I needed to call and he got me that pitch. I thought it was pretty funny that I got to face Druw because we’ve been on the circuit with each other for a while. It was pretty cool to be able to throw against him for my first one.”
With his first professional strikeout under his belt, Snelling’s nerves dissipated. He methodically mowed down Visalia’s lineup by locating his 91-95 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and got both swings and misses and called strikes with his 80-83 mph slider throughout the night. He didn’t throw his 85-86 mph changeup often, but he flashed the ability to throw it for a strike when needed.
Snelling struck out three, walked one and allowed only one hard-hit ball all night – an opposite-field double into the left-center gap by outfielder Brett Johnson to lead off the third inning. He threw 32 of 49 pitches for strikes and departed with a 4-0 lead.
“I think a lot of people think maybe he’s just an overpowering guy, but he showed a lot of feel today,” said Lake Elsinore manager Pete Zamora, who picked up his first career California League win. “He put the ball where he wanted (and) showed the ability to throw three pitches for strikes tonight. He got to a lead and knew how to pitch with a lead.”
Snelling, Jared Koenig and Will Geerdes and combined on a three-hit shutout for Lake Elsinore, the defending California League champions. Designated hitter Albert Fabian went 2 for 5 with a home run and three RBIs, catcher Anthony Vilar went 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBIs and third baseman Graham Pauley went 3 for 3 with two doubles and three runs scored to lead the offense. Center fielder Samuel Zavala, the Padres No. 4 prospect, went 0 for 4 with a run scored.
Jones, the D-backs No. 4 prospect, got off to a rough start in what was also his pro debut. He struck out in his first at-bat and, on his first career defensive play, overthrew a ball to third base into the visitor’s dugout for a throwing error that sent home Lake Elsinore’s first run.
But Jones settled in as the game progressed. He worked an eigjt-pitch walk against Snelling in the third inning, laying off a close, full-count slider, and hit a line drive to center in the sixth that Zavala tracked down. He struck out in his final at-bat, swinging through a full-count, 88 mph slider from Geerdes.
Jones also made up for his earlier defensive miscue with a highlight-reel catch in the fifth. With two outs and a runner on second, Lake Elsinore first baseman Griffin Doersching crushed a long fly ball to center that appeared headed for extra bases. But Jones raced back, closed ground quickly and, with his back to the infield, made an exceptional running catch over his head at the wall to end the inning.
“That play,” Zamora said, “is one of the best plays I’ve seen in my 47 years in baseball.”
Here is video of the Druw Jones catch from the broadcast https://t.co/sn1PhydXkC
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) April 7, 2023