Who is Forrest Snow, and Why Is He Smiling?
Seattle native Forrest Snow got some attention by moving from single A Clinton to AAA Tacoma this year, but his arsenal was something of a mystery. How’d a guy that got shelled at the University of Washington shut down a AAA line-up? How is a guy with a poor FIP above class A shutting down the Arizona Fall League? Today offered our first nibble of pitch fx data on Snow, and while he wasn’t quite as dominant today as he was earlier in the month, and while he’ll likely be upstaged by Danny Hultzen, he showed enough stuff to prove that this isn’t purely luck. Snow’s legit, and he’s opening some eyes in the AFL.
Snow graduated from noted baseball powerhouse Lakeside then spent three years as a UW Husky. He struck out a batter an inning, but a poor walk rate and a worse HR rate made his RA look ugly (7.3!), so his draft stock in 2010 wasn’t exactly Hultzenesque. He was picked in the 36th round, and signed quickly enough to make 10 appearances with Everett the same year (all in relief). He moved into the rotation to start 2011 with the Clinton Lumberkings, and while he was effective, he was overshadowed by the breakout performances of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. He moved up to high A High Desert where HRs again proved an issue, then came up to Tacoma in July. He made a few appearances in relief, but turned in two very solid starts including this 7-IP gem against Omaha. After starting the year facing teenagers in the MWL, his strikeout rate peaked in Tacoma (in the run-addled PCL).
The M’s sent Snow to the Arizona Fall League this year, and he’s been lights out so far, pitching 6 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up one hit, one walk while striking out eight. He had a reputation in Tacoma as a hard worker, but I still didn’t know if his stuff was fringe-y. Today, we got our first look at pitch FX data on Snow; it’s only a seven batter sample, but it’s something. Snow throws a low-90s fastball (he touched 94, but averaged 92mph with his fastball today), a change-up and a slider/slurve. In Tacoma, his change-up was reputed to be more advanced than the slider, and while he used the change more today, it’s way too early to say much about either offering.
His fastball looked very interesting however – he threw all of 15 of them today, but they showed noticeable rise thanks to well-above average backspin. His pfx z (the vertical “drop” on his pitches”) was above MLB average – closer to guys like Jered Weaver or Josh Collmenter. But while the latter gets essentially no horizontal movement thanks to an extreme over-the-top delivery, Snow gets a ton of armside break. That should help him avoid big platoon splits, as his FB will act a bit more like two-seamers (or like a cross between a ‘jumping’ fastball and a ‘rider’ in Max Marchi’s taxonomy).
His spin rate on these pitches was actually greater than pitchers like Weaver – it was in Justin Verlander’s class. This isn’t to say that he’ll be Justin Verlander; he doesn’t throw 100mph. But according to new (proprietary) data, there may be a correlation between spin rate and swinging strikes, so this will be something to watch as Snow moves through the AFL. Along with that backspin and ‘rise’ *should* come an increased fly ball rate (and thus HR rate). To date, he hasn’t really shown clear fly-ball or grounder tendencies (he was a fly-baller in his short stint in Tacoma, but a GB guy in 2010 and in the AFL so far), so it may be that his HRs stem from a combination of movement and location (shocking, I know).
All in all, Snow’s made the biggest jump of anyone in the M’s farm system, at least amongst the youngsters (the Disney-class stories of Tom Wilhelmsen and Steve Delabar are a separate case). He’s gone from an org-level reliever to a guy who’s had a bit of success as a starter in AAA, and we now know his fastball is MLB-quality in movement and velocity. This isn’t someone who’s Vasquez’d his way past low-level hitters – he may be, as Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus noted the other day, “one of the best pitching prospects nobody has heard of.”