The Tampa Bay Rays Find A New Inefficiency to Exploit
This offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays signed D.J. Snelten to a minor league contract. This signing has gone under the radar as he is one of hundreds of players to get a minor league deal every offseason. However, he is a 6'6" flamethrowing southpaw who at 27 years old has tasted of the major leagues. In April 2018, he made four appearances for the Giants, but disappointed with a 10.38 ERA. The Giants quickly shuffled him back down to AAA, and he was released within the month. The Baltimore Orioles claimed him off of waivers and kept him through the season in AAA, but released him on the eve of the 2019 season. Snelten, undeterred, signed for the Chicago Dogs (named after the food, not the animal) in the independent American Association, where he performed well. However, something was gnawing at him that this was not his baseball destiny.
Now I mentioned that he is a 'flamethrowing' pitcher. However, that was not always the case. His fastball in 2018 with the Giants maxed out at 94 mph, with an average velocity of 90.2 mph. To put this into perspective, the average velocity of a relief pitcher's fastball in the 2018 MLB season was 93.4 mph. Snelten, despite his imposing frame, was not getting the most out of his fastball, and it was costing him his career. So what did he do? He completely remade his delivery with the help of an old coach, Nick Sanzeri, and promoted it through Twitter. Sanzeri told Snelten something Snelten already knew, that he was not using his legs enough. Furthermore, he recognized Snelten had to "fix his hip internal rotation & load phase." Snelten used this advice to pump his fastball up to a consistent 96 mph. Now, he needed to market his news skills to the league that had dumped him out last year. Snelten posted his clips onto Twitter where they were picked up by @FlatgroundApp, an account created by the Pitching Ninja to showcase players who otherwise might go unnoticed. From there, the magic of a 99 mph fastball took over, with the Pitching Ninja himself spreading Snelten's clips, and soon Snelten had calls from multiple organizations. Rays eventually giving him a minor league deal and non-roster invite to spring training, something Snelten was excited about because of the organization's history of developing their players.
Marc Topkin, the author of the article that I found the news of this signing on, called it a "true Twitter Moment," and the Ray's "first internet hookup." However, I think this goes deeper than that. This signing, regardless of how successful Snelten is with the Rays, represents a new frontier for player scouting. While this might be a unique, one-off signing today, in five years, using social media to find players could easily be one of the most effective scouting strategies to employ. I could see this being especially true in baseball, where a real change in the mechanics of one's delivery or swing from a coach's advice and the help of technology can make you a valuable player (see: Jose Bautista, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, and countless others).
In Snelten's first appearance on the mound this Spring Training, he struck out the side in an inning of work. Here we see the Pitching Ninja further promoting his success story, and for good reason, evidenced by the clip. Snelten is now gaining a cult following who love his personality and his story. Plus, he looks like he is here to stay. Other teams better be taking notes, because this should not be last time a player is signed off of Twitter, especially if he finds immediate success. But for now, we get to sit back and enjoy. Hopefully, the process pays off with results in games that matter.