Just over 11 months ago, the San Diego Padres general manager and President of Baseball Operations made the call to select Robby Snelling out of Robert McQueen High School in Reno, Nevada.
After just 11 starts of professional ball, the Padres are promoting the 19-year-old to the Fort Wayne TinCaps (High-A affiliate).
The left-hander has exceeded all expectations in his first year and then some. With the Lake Elsinore Storm this season, Snelling is 5-1 with a superb 1.57 ERA (leads all of Single-A, min. 50 IP), a 1.01 WHIP, and 59 strikeouts in 51.1 innings pitched, despite being nearly three years younger the average player in the California League. Snelling was listed this past week on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects at #88 (Padres #4).
Daily Reminder that @robbysnelling is a DAWG 😤
— Lake Elsinore Storm (@Storm_Baseball) June 23, 2023
While a 19-year-old in High-A is not unprecedented, it’s still extremely rare, but the Padres organization and Storm Manager Pete Zamora are very high on the young star.
“All his stuff combined, with his mentality, his ability to compete, and his athleticism adds up to this ace type of pitcher,” Zamora says.
Despite being selected 39th overall in 2022, Snelling knows that success is not guaranteed. “Draft status doesn’t mean anything once you get out to an affiliate. Everybody’s the same. If you set the bar really high for yourself and you work for it, you’re going to get there,” Snelling told EVT News, “People are going to have these expectations, but that doesn’t really matter anymore. You got to go out and play.”
The step for Snelling in his development is all about refining his toolbox. “He can get a better fastball and better break on his off-speed, but he is very meticulous at working at those things. Nothing is ever good enough for Robby, and that’s why he is who he is,” Zamora says.
After splitting time between football and baseball in high school, the Padres “would be happy” to get 100 innings out of Snelling this season. About halfway through the season, he’s on pace to eclipse that mark by the end of the season, barring injury.
Our high school male athlete of the year Robby Snelling, describes the relationship with his father after winning a division title for McQueen football. pic.twitter.com/9FrKytM29E
— Nevada Sports Net (@NevadaSportsNet) May 30, 2022
Snelling was named Regional Player of the Year following his senior football season at McQueen High School in 2021 and was at one point committed to play both baseball and football at the University of Arizona as a 4-star recruit. While he has “no regrets” about his decision to play baseball, Snelling does miss the hitting part of football. “It was almost like therapy for me,” Snelling says.
Even his teammates like Henry Williams (Padres #10 prospect) have noticed that desire from Snelling. “[Robby] tells me almost every day that he just wants to tackle somebody,” Williams says, “He made the right decision, though.”
Snelling’s former travel ball coach, Rob Bruno, says Snelling is one of the most unique athletes he’s coached in a quarter century. “He literally could play next level on both sides of the ball in baseball and football. They don’t mention that he can throw a ball through the goalposts from the 50,” Bruno says.
While there’s no tackling in baseball, that hasn’t stopped Snelling from using that “bulldog mentality” on the diamond.
“Football being in my life, along with the other sports I played in my life growing up, has really helped me. It turned me into a completely different kind of athlete. There are some plays that I make on the baseball field that I don’t think I could make if I didn’t get the lateral speed work from football or basketball,” Snelling said.
In the same way, he would stalk a ball carrier in football, one of Snelling’s best attributes has been his ability to come right after his opponents (2.3 BB/9) using primarily a mid-90s fastball and a curveball in the upper-70s in addition to incorporating a changeup.
Growing up, Snelling looked up to another left-handed pitcher very familiar to the Padres, Madison Bumgarner.
“He is a country boy, kind of like I am. There were a lot of things in him that I saw in myself at that point. I still carry that same kind of ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitude,” Snelling says.
Another fast riser, the former San Franciso Giant and Arizona Diamondback spent 15 seasons in the Major Leagues after debuting at 19 years old. While Snelling won’t debut with the Padres this season, he could be in the next year or two with sustained success.
Snelling joins the TinCaps this week in East Lake, Ohio, as Fort Wayne takes on the Captains (Cleveland Guardians High-A affiliate) for a six-game series beginning on Wednesday, June 28.
Al was born in Fresno, California with a passion for talking and writing about sports. The lifelong Padres fan is currently attending Fresno State as he pursues a degree in broadcast journalism. In addition to being a student, he does public address announcing at both the high school and collegiate levels.