DETROIT - It wasn’t quite a ‘The King is dead, long live the King’ scenario, but close.
Arriving on the wet and dreary scene in Motown on Tuesday was Eric Thames, the Blue Jays latest golden boy, whom it appears has supplanted former golden boy Travis Snider in the organizational pecking order.
Snider, the club’s No. 1 pick in the 2006 June draft, has been the Jays child prodigy for four years running and each season has come up decidedly short due to one thing or another.
He currently is toiling at Las Vegas attempting to square up triple-A pitching in the hope that his long and around-the-ball stroke can be changed to compact and powerful.
When the Jays decided to bite the bullet with first baseman Adam Lind and finally put him on the disabled list due to lower back issues, they summoned Thames (as in Flames) and not Snider to fill the void.
Now it’s up to Thames, an engaging and likeable native of San Jose, Calif., to fulfill the potential once expected of Snider.
Manager John Farrell didn’t quite say “Travis who” when asked about Snider while waxing poetic about the abilities and high ceiling that Thames, 24, brings, but it was apparent which player is now the apple of the organization’s eye. He’s the guy with the ‘fro.
“He earned his promotion on his production (.342, six homers, 30 RBIs in 36 games) and the fact that we’re heavily right-handed with our lineup,” Farrell said of the left-handed hitting outfielder.
Farrell has liked everything he has seen from Thames, beginning in spring training when he made a big impression.
“A very confident hitter, a lot of bat speed, it had a tendency to have a little bit different sound when the ball came off the bat,” Farrell said when asked what he saw from Thames in the spring. “And just the confidence in the box. He’s a pretty advanced hitter even for his relatively short pro experience.”
A seventh-round pick in the 2008 draft, Thames didn’t play in 2008 due to his recovery from surgery to his right quadriceps muscle which he tore while playing in the final series of the 2008 college season with Pepperdine University. Thames would have been a first-round pick but for the injury. He played just 59 games in the Jays organization in 2009, then 130 at double-A New Hampshire in 2010 and the 36 at triple-A Las Vegas this year. That’s it.
But it’s enough for the Jays.
“You’re looking at a guy who has had an abbreviated track record,” Farrell said. “He had a breakout year last year at double-A and continued that through spring season and the course of the first part of the season.”
Thames’ smile lit up the Jays clubhouse Tuesday night.
“You have to hope,” Thames said when asked if he ever thought the call would come this season. “I knew whatever happened (in spring) I’d be playing for Vegas. So I kind of planned on it. I knew I had stuff to work on and focused on getting better at it.”
It’s been a quick, heady ride to the bigs, one he couldn’t have expected to be so rapid.
“Usually in the off-season I set a goal that’s kind of out of reach,” he said. “What’s that quote, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you should be among the stars.”
Lind is eligible to return to the Jays in seven days but Thames’ window to shine is greater than that. How long he sticks is strictly up to him.
“We’re hopeful that his welcome is a long one,” Farrell said. “He’s got an opportunity to impact just how long that is.”
Those were the words that once surrounded Snider.
“Travis is starting to take some of the adjustments that he’s worked with and have been outlined,” Farrell said. “He’s starting to show up in games but it’s not consistent yet and we don’t want to interrupt that progression.
“Eric has been swinging the bat for quite a while and swinging it well.”
When pressed about Snider, Farrell said it isn’t a case of the organization giving up on the player and no longer viewing him as a prospect. After all, he is just 23.
“He’s got every opportunity to get back here,” he said. “Travis, we still view him in the same light that we did in the off-season. The fact that he’s had some scuffles here doesn’t deter us from that and we are confident that he’s going to be that player that we view him as.”
Can it be good for Snider to see a player overtake him a bit?
“I think the value in all this is how he responds,” Farrell replied. “He has total control and we don’t think he’s going to take this negatively. How he uses this as further motivation, yes, it can be a positive as long as he’s willing to make it that.”
If you’re Snider, it’s hard to look at it that way.
He’s no dummy and Tuesday night he knows the torch has just been passed.