Last week the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they would be parting ways with longtime pitching coach Jim Hickey, in what was called a mutual decision. His replacement, Kyle Snyder, has spent the last four seasons as a Minor League pitching coach (or coordinator) within the Rays farm system.
“It was just time” for the Rays to shake up their coaching staff, Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote on Friday. Hickey seemed likely to leave when his contract was up after the 2018 season, said he had a “difference of opinion” about the team’s plan to utilize relievers earlier games. The pitching coach has to sell those strategies to the staff, and with the young talent they have coming down the pike — be them sooner or later — Snyder is better positioned to do that, opined Topkin.
The changes to the coaching staff have resulted in just one coach (bullpen coach Stan Boroski) remaining from the Joe Maddon/Matt Friedman era, so current skipper Kevin Cash now has more of his own people in place.
He connects with pitchers in whatever way is necessary to help them get better, Cash told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. And that has been glaring throughout the last three years of his work.
You may be asking, “who is Kyle Snyder?” Per the Rays press release, under Snyder’s watchful eye, the Triple-A Durham Bulls set a single-season Minor League record with 1,421 strikeouts this season.
Snyder, 40, becomes the eighth pitching coach in franchise history, following Rick Williams (1998-2000), Bill Fischer (2000-01), Jackie Brown (2002), Chris Bosio (2003), Chuck Hernandez (2004-05), Mike Butcher (2006) and Hickey (2007-17). He began his coaching career in 2012 and has spent all six of those seasons in the Rays organization, the last three as the pitching coach for Durham. In 2017, the Bulls pitching staff set a minor league single-season record with 1,421 strikeouts. In three seasons under Snyder, Bulls pitchers combined for a 3.61 ERA. Prior to that, he served as minor league pitching coordinator in 2014, pitching coach for the Class-A Bowling Green Hot Rods in 2013 and pitching coach for Short-A Hudson Valley Renegades in 2012.
Snyder pitched parts of five seasons in the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals (2003, 2005-06) and Boston Red Sox (2006-08), appearing in 93 games with 29 starts. In 2007, his only full major league season, he compiled a 3.81 ERA over 46 relief appearances and was named to Boston’s World Series roster. He was originally drafted by the Rays in the 27th round of the 1996 June Draft out of Riverview High School in Sarasota, but did not sign. After pitching three seasons for the University of North Carolina, he was selected by Kansas City in the first round (seventh overall) in the 1999 June Draft.
For Snyder, the ups and downs of his short lived playing career have proved beneficial in his post-playing career.
I would say to some degree I think it has helped me become the pitching coach that I am, Snyder said. The experiences that I’ve gone through, the frustrations that I’ve dealt with.
It is those experiences that taught Snyder to relate to each pitcher in his charge on a personal basis, “being able to speak their language,” which helps him identify how they need to be handled.
I really try to prioritize the human being, Snyder said. The building of a relationship, understanding that establishing trust takes time. There is an element of trial and error to a lot of what we do as coaches, and without that trust it’s going to be difficult to connect and reach guys and/or influence their careers, which is the common goal.
Players like Brent Honeywell, Jacob Faria, and Ryne Stanek raved about the job he’s done.
It’s simple: look at the numbers, said tHoneywell. Look what he produces. Look at his minor-league career. He knows what he’s doing.
Faria piggybacked on Honeywell.
Everything is individualized for each pitcher he works with. There is nothing cookie-cutter about him.
Stanek also added:
He’s very good at relaying information, and knowing when somebody needs to be left alone. He has a very good feel how to help.
Cash made clear that his comfort factor with Snyder goes back to playing in Boston.
There’s a history there, and fortunately for me coming into the organization (in 2015) I felt like we kind of picked up right where we left off, Cash said. Throughout the last three years Kyle and I have had countless conversations talking about young pitchers coming up,” many of whom will be part of the staff in 2018.
The changes made for a special episode of This Week in Rays Baseball. Neil Solondz talked to GM Erik Neander, Snyder and Topkin, and you can stream that episode below.