BRADENTON, Fla. – There’s a lot to like about 24-year-old Justin Snyder, especially if you happen to be a manager, like Thunder skipper Tony Franklin, who values versatility.
Snyder, who will turn 25 April 8, is not the flashiest player in the Yankees system, nor will he hit for the highest average. He will, however, fill in at every position in the field except catcher.
“You need players like Justin,’’ said Franklin. “I know I can play him at a number of positions and feel comfortable.’’
Call the former University of San Diego star a super-utility guy and he gladly accepts the compliment. He may start the season with Triple-A Scranton, for which he played two games in 2010, or be back for a third tour with the Thunder, where he played 90 games.
“Scranton or Trenton?’’ said Snyder as he loosened up before a recent Triple-A spring-training matchup with Indianapolis while part of the Scranton work group at Pirate City in this Gulf Coast town of nearly 55,000. “It doesn’t matter. Wherever they want me to play, I just want a chance to contribute.
“I’m glad I’m still in the (Yankees) system because I really enjoy playing with all these guys.’’
Franklin filled a hole with Snyder, a 21st-round pick by the Yankees in 2007, a lot last season, especially after David Adams went down with his broken ankle. The native of El Cajon, Calif., played 48 games at second base, 20 at third base, 12 at shortstop, four at first base and six in the outfield. He also served as the DH as few time and, yes, found time to pitch a scoreless inning along the way.
He batted .245 (64-for-261) with the Thunder in 2010, walking 49 times and striking out 44. His best season was 2008 at Charleston, when he batted .288 (145-for-584) with 33 doubles and 59 RBIs, earning South Atlantic League All-Star honors.
That, plus a strong spring-training effort in 2009, allowed him to skip Class-A Tampa and earn a spot with the Thunder, where he batted .195 (51-for-262) and scuffled. Last season, he was much more comfortable at Double-A, thriving in his role.
“I’ll take every opportunity that’s offered, no matter what the position,’’ he said. “I have fun with that. My ability to play a lot of positions has helped carry me.’’
A player who doesn’t mind getting his uniform dirty, Snyder’s best position is second base, where, in his 48 starts, he committed only four errors and was able to turn 26 double plays with the Thunder in 2010.
He can often be the forgotten man in the upper-level infield mix, with both Adams and Corban Joseph also involved at second base.
“We have a lot of good players at the infield position and I’m here, just trying to work the kinks out after not playing all winter and I look at the possibilities.
“By the way, who is going to play first base at Trenton? I’ll volunteer. All I can do is give it my best shot, and that’s all I can control.’’
Where Snyder ends up starting 2011 depends on a few factors. The Yankees would prefer Brad Suttle to play third base with the Thunder. With both Adams and Joseph in Trenton, that would be logistically difficult. In that case, Snyder could be a bench player in Scranton.
There were whispers in camp that Adams, who is returning to action gradually, would start at Scranton, and Snyder could reprise his role with the Thunder.
“That’s for them to decide,’’ Snyder said. “I’m just glad to be here.’’
Either Franklin or Dave Miley will be more than willing to accept that attitude.
BROWN TRYING TO IMPRESS: With some of the certain 2011 Thunder players still in big-league camp or with the Triple-A work group, some youngsters like 22-year-old Shane Brown are getting a chance to play for Franklin.
Brown, a native of Roanoke, Va., smashed a triple and scored the Thunder’s lone run in last Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Reading.
A star at Central Florida, he was a 23rd-round pick by the Yankees in 2010 and batted .234 (49-for-209) with Staten Island last season and will likely be assigned to Class-A Charleston.
That triple, however, is one Franklin and his coaches will remember.
BaseLines is providing daily spring-training reports from its annual trip to the Thunder camp in Tampa, Fla., last week. Comments are welcomed below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @jedleyq.