Former University of Washington pitcher Forrest Snow, a 36th-round draft choice in 2010, advanced to Class AAA last season and is impressing the Mariners in the Arizona Fall League.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Forrest Snow used to come home from his T-ball games and dream of playing for the Mariners.
But for the longest time, it appeared the closest the 6-foot-6 Seattle native would get to fulfilling childhood baseball fantasies was donning the University of Washington colors for three seasons. Downright ordinary results there and a draft selection limited to the 36th round last year gave little indication of what lay ahead — a dramatic rise through the Mariners organization and some Arizona Fall League numbers this month bound to get any pitcher noticed.
Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis arrived here Monday and plans to spend this week getting a closer look at the 22-year-old starter, who began this past season in the Class A Midwest League and finished with AAA Tacoma. But for all his newfound success, Snow insists he isn’t that different from the home-run-prone pitcher who posted earned-run averages of 5.81 and 6.30 his final two seasons for the Huskies.
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“It’s just been a step-by-step process, trying to get better every day,” said Snow, who has given up just one hit and no runs in four outings spanning 8-2/3 innings for the Peoria Javelinas in AFL play.
Snow feels that while some of his Huskies results might have been mediocre, his overall stuff wasn’t. He points to the strikeout-per-inning average (1.03 per inning over 101 innings) he maintained in three college seasons despite a walk rate that crept up from time to time.
It was that strikeout ability that first caught the eye of Mariners assistant general manager Tony Blengino when he was working for the Milwaukee Brewers and Snow was pitching at Seattle’s Lakeside High School. The Brewers passed on drafting Snow then because they knew he wanted to play for the Huskies, but Mariners insiders say Blengino remained a fan and supported taking a late-round flyer on him in 2010 despite lackluster college results.
Snow’s 127 strikeouts last season ranked fourth among all Seattle farmhands. He says he finally has a role and structured daily routine he lacked in college and can better prepare himself
“Now, they know what they want me to do,” Snow said. “They say, ‘OK, you’re going to pitch in four days, so get ready.’ So, I’m able to structure my preparation for that, and it’s worked out.”
All the home runs Snow kept allowing in college have leveled off. Some of that is just bad luck turning better, but also that Snow has learned to pitch inside more with a fastball in the low 90s.
The inside-pitching part really took hold this past season with the Class A High Desert Mavericks, who play in a launching-pad type of ballpark in a league known for destroying pitchers.
Snow’s ERA shot up to 8.10 in six starts there, but the experience gained simply surviving in that environment proved invaluable. He became more aggressive early and wasn’t afraid to give up contact and let his fielders do the work behind him so he could notch quick outs and get deeper into games.
“I feel like now, I’ve kind of learned to harness the velocity that I do have and have improved on my secondary pitches,” Snow said.
Though he posted a 5.35 ERA in two starts and seven relief outings at AAA, Snow opened eyes by striking out 36 batters and walking just 10 in 35-1/3 innings. In the AFL, he has 10 strikeouts against just one walk.
Mariners minor-league hitting coach Alonzo Powell is on staff with Peoria and got to know Snow in AAA. The two have spoken often about what Snow needs to do to get professional hitters out.
“He’s got an outstanding change-up,” Powell said. “It’s really, really good and … being able to pitch inside would make that change-up a lot more effective. Because now you have guys thinking about having to handle that fastball on the inner part of the plate and they have to be quicker. Then, you drop that change-up in on them and they’re way out in front of it.”
Snow agrees that his fastball-changeup combination is the strongest part of his game.
But he’s working on perfecting a third pitch — most likely a low-to-mid-80s slider — that he can bring to spring training. He’d previously used more of a “slurve” type of looping slider he wants to be tighter and harder.
Mariners catcher Adam Moore, rehabbing from knee surgery with the Peoria team, likes what he’s seen catching Snow in bullpen sessions.
“He has an idea of what he wants to do up there,” Moore said. “He’s not just throwing a baseball.”
Snow has bounced between starting and relief work as a pro, but the Mariners seem prepared to keep grooming him as a starter. He’s made one start for Peoria and what the Mariners do with him next spring — perhaps inviting him to big-league camp — could depend on what Willis and others see in weeks ahead.
“It’s up in the air right now,” Snow said of what his ultimate role could be. “But right now, if I show them that I could be counted on either as a starter, or a reliever — somebody who could go either way — the rest should take care of itself.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.