When the Tacoma Rainiers open their Pacific Coast League season tonight, three of the most ballyhooed young pitchers in the Seattle organization won’t be within 2,000 miles of Cheney Stadium.
But Forrest Snow will be there, taking mental notes on the Salt Lake City hitters he’ll start against Sunday.
The University of Washington graduate, selected by the Mariners in the 36th round of the 2010 amateur draft, isn’t as touted as former first-round draft choices Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton.
No matter. While Walker, Hultzen and Paxton continue to polish their craft with the Double-A Jackson Generals, Snow gets a chance to prove himself against the more experienced professional hitters in Triple-A.
It’s a continuation of an improbable leap through the Seattle system for Snow, who last season worked two levels of Single-A before the Mariners promoted him to Tacoma.
The call-up was made out of desperation: The Rainiers needed somebody to get them through the night, and were prepared to send the right-hander back to the hitter-friendly California League after he gave them five or six innings in a spot start.
But Snow, a 23-year-old Seattle native who went to Lakeside High – his family still lives in the area – had other ideas. He turned the spot start into a prolonged audition.
“It was a juggling act,” Snow said Wednesday, a few minutes before the Rainiers worked out. “They told me they’d probably send me back down.
“I was supposed to be put on the inactive list, and then I wasn’t. That kind of went on for a couple of weeks.
“But it was a great situation. I had a blast.”
Snow appeared in nine games for the Rainiers, and though his numbers (1-2, 5.35 ERA) didn’t scream for him to be noticed, he struck out 36 batters in 35 innings. That’ll get anybody noticed.
“Forrest Snow came up for a spot start and never left,” said manager Daren Brown. “You don’t know what to expect with A-ball guys. Some do good, some don’t. He did a nice job for us.”
The Mariners thought enough of Snow’s job that they asked him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. This was a prestigious gig – big-league teams typically restrict fall league invitations to a handful of their best prospects – and Snow made the most of it, leading the league with a 1.10 ERA.
Snow throws a fastball in the low 90s, and at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, appears to own the prototypical body frame for a power arm. But as the great Warren Spahn used to say, the art of hitting is timing, and the art of pitching is upsetting that timing.
During his junior season with the Huskies, Snow’s ERA was 5.81. As a senior, it ballooned to 6.36. He had the stuff, but didn’t know how to make those pitches avoid aluminum bats.
After signing with the Mariners, Snow got a grip. Literally: His swing-and-miss pitch is now a change-up, reducing velocity by using his thumb and fingers to form a circle on the ball.
“In college, I didn’t have command of my change-up,” he said. “When I started facing wooden bats in the minors, I started going inside with the fastball, which has made my change-up that much more effective.
“It’s a strikeout pitch for me now, my bread and butter.”
Still, a 6-6 athlete who’s got the ability to throw more than 90 mph would be wise to maintain an entrée with that bread and butter, and Snow is nothing if not smart. He returned from the fall league and worked out in the Safeco Field weight room several times a week. His ultimate ambition is to pitch for the Mariners, in whatever capacity they request.
“I don’t really like the word ‘utility’ pitcher, but maybe that’s what I am at this point,” he said. “I can be starter, and I can be somebody who gets called from the bullpen in the seventh or eighth inning.”
Snow hasn’t forgotten that he was a 36th-round draft choice. He views it not as a snub, but as a reality check.
“I’ve got to fight for my life,” he said. “I’m competing with guys who were taken in the first round, the second round, the third round – guys who are considered prospects. I’ve got to show the organization I have what it takes.”
When Snow showed up for spring training in February, he took a look around him in the big-league clubhouse and grinned.
“I saw Taijuan Walker next to me. And next to Taijuan was Danny Hultzen, and next to Danny was James Paxton, and next to James was Erasmo Ramirez,” Snow said, referring to the Mariners’ 2009 Minor League Pitcher of the Year who survived the big club’s final roster cut, announced Wednesday.
“All five of us,” Snow continued, “were right there.”
The 36th-round draft choice shared the recollection with a smile that translated his quest to pitch at Safeco Field into two words.