LAKE ELSINORE — When you are 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, and can throw the ball in the low 90s, scouts and teams will find you. But for Duncan Snider, 24, the road to signing with an affiliated team for a chance to live out his dream of pitching in the major leagues took a circuitous route.
Growing up in Muscatine, Iowa, along the Mississippi River, Snider saw injuries cut short a promising high school career and led to junior college, followed by three years at Upper Iowa University, a Division II school, he had his best year with the Peacocks in 2021, where he had a 3.62 ERA in 64.2 innings with 66 strikeouts against 35 walks, but went undrafted.
Snider then began his journey through the infamous Pecos League, which is not exactly known for its luxurious amenities. He pitched well enough for them to get a look from the Lake County Dockhounds in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin – a step up to an affiliated independent league – and started to put up numbers, striking out 52 batters in 38.2 innings against only 16 walks.
The Padres signed him in late June and sent him to the Storm, where he posted a 6-1 record in 48 innings with a 4.31 ERA with 57 punchouts against 12 walks.
After he started the game that put Lake Elsinore in the championship series, he was kind enough to chat with us about his journey.
MadFriars: Can you go into a little bit about your background and how you got to Upper Iowa University?
Duncan Snider: I was born and raised in Muscatine, Iowa. I was playing high school baseball, and everything went well before I tore up my elbow in my sophomore year. They didn’t do surgery because it was only a partial tear, so I tried to come back my junior year, and it didn’t work, so I had T.J. surgery and only got to play a bit of my senior year.
So, at that point, any college interest went away, even though I had some interest going into my sophomore year.
How tall were you as a sophomore?
Duncan Snider: I was the same that I am now.
When you don’t play that much, especially in Iowa, where we only play in the summer, there were not a whole lot of options. So, I committed to Marshalltown Community College and did very poorly there when I was coming off of T.J.
I just really hadn’t thrown it in a long time.
Was it more your command or just general control?
Duncan Snider: My command was bad, and my velocity wasn’t great. I was struggling to hit 85 [mph]. Then two years there and then I went to Upper Iowa, and I started to get my velo back; I was up to 90 mph my junior year and then up to 92, which was getting better.
I was still walking a lot of guys, but I was a lot better. I had a little draft interest from the [Milwaukee] Brewers but really not that much.
No one tried to sign you as an undrafted free agent at 6-foot-7?
Duncan Snider: [laughs] No, Independent Ball barely wanted me. The league I played in last year, the Pecos League, wasn’t really known as the gateway to the big leagues.
You pitched for the Tucson Saguaros and put up some good numbers there.
How was it playing in the Pecos League?
Duncan Snider: Terrible. It’s a hitter’s league, and the competition is nothing like this. In Tucson, we didn’t even play in one of the old Spring Training stadiums; we were at a high school field. Occasionally, there were shootings behind the field; it was just not a great neighborhood.
You got out and signed with the Houston Apollos.
Duncan Snider: Yes, the Houston Apollos is a travel team for the Pecos League that was a travel team in the American Association last year. That team was filled with what you might call Pecos League all-stars, and two other guys and I went to join them after the Tucson Saguaro’s season was over.
We played last two or three weeks there.
What is being on a Pecos League traveling team like? I can imagine you were not staying at the Four Seasons.
Duncan Snider: Because we were a travel team – and I played in the American Association on a different team – it was all the same hotels. I think the league tells all the teams where they will stay.
How was the per-diem?
Duncan Snider: I was told it would be $25 a day, but I never saw a cent. We were driving from Sioux City, Iowa, to Cleburne, Texas, and were told we would get paid for the gas, but we didn’t. We never signed a contract, and we did get paid, but we didn’t get anything for gas and food.
So you get to Lake County this year, also in the American Association; how did that go for you this season?
Duncan Snider: It was awesome, and I loved it. I had some awesome teammates in Alex McRae, who had been with the White Sox the year before, and Evan Kruczynski, who was in Triple-A with the Cardinals. The amount of stuff you can learn from those guys is incredible.
How did you end up with the Padres?
Duncan Snider: My buddy Evan is good friends with A.J. Ellis. He and A.J. went out golfing on the same day that I had a start. I threw eight innings and struck out 16, one away from the league record. A.J. was talking to Evan about how San Diego needed pitching, and Evan suggested me, and I was lucky he caught me on that day.
So it was a pretty easy sign.
You are 6-foot-7 and about 215-pounds.
Duncan Snider: Closer to 235 pounds.
What do you throw?
Duncan Snider: I throw around 90 to 93. I have four and two-seam fastballs. I also throw a curve and a slider.
Duncan Snider: No, I struggle with that one.
What is your best secondary pitch?
Duncan Snider: My best pitch is my curve ball.
How is being in affiliated ball compared to what you were previously used to in pro ball?
Duncan Snider: The Dockhounds is pretty nice; they have a brand-new stadium. A lot of the teams in the American Association used to be in affiliated ball, and that was a big step up from the Pecos League. But here is a step up. We take two buses; the food is good – although I can’t say enough about how well Lake County treated me.
The competition must have been different from the American Association to the Cal League. In that league, you have a lot of guys that have played at upper levels, some, as you said, even in the majors compared to here, where there is a lot of raw talent.
Duncan Snider: That is a good description of what it is like. The talent is about the same, but the experience is much more. I think the average age there was around 27. Here it is, 21 or 22.
How does that help you? You have good velocity, but you are probably used to hitters with more of an approach.
Duncan Snider: The best thing for me in the American Association was that it taught me how to approach pitching. I had to learn to reflect and think about what I wanted to do because if you aren’t thinking about how you need to pitch, the hitters there will punish you.
You have an excellent won-loss record, and your secondary statistics are good as well. What was the biggest reason for your success here?
Duncan Snider: I was always upset that I never got drafted or picked up, so I had to teach myself how to play and compete. Going the route that I did teach me so much from just being around guys that had been in Triple-A or MLB, which really helped me.
Going into this offseason, is it going to be a little more relaxing knowing that you have established a place where you will be next year?
Duncan Snider: Last year, I was trying to sign with an Independent team from September of last year, and I think I finally got it in early February. So those three or four months were very stressful. In Independent Ball, they are always looking for ex-Affiliate guys; they don’t want other Independent guys to give someone their first shot.
What is the biggest thing you will work on with your pitching in the off-season?
Duncan Snider: I haven’t decided if I want to try a changeup or tune-up with what I have. The two-seamer and slider are pretty new to me and need to improve.
I am going to Instructs after the season, so I will do whatever they want to give me.