This substitute teacher in Alaska key for Astros

February 29th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When Astros pitching coach Brent Strom sat down before the start of camp and began listing his pitchers in order of most service time to least, right-hander 's name came up sooner than expected.

Of the 30 pitchers who are currently in camp, Sneed is in the middle of the pack when it comes to service time, with a whopping 67 days in the big leagues. All of that came last year when he was the man the Astros called up routinely from Triple-A Round Rock when there was an injury or a need for another arm in Houston.

While he has nowhere near the experience of Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke or Joe Smith, Sneed, 27, is seen as an elder statesman among the bevy of younger pitchers in camp. And he’s one of the favorites of Strom, considering he bounces back quickly and can take the ball in any role at any time.

“We were back and forth a lot last year and those days really add up, and now we’ve got a little bit of a younger crowd,” Sneed said. “It is kind of nice to have a little more service time than some of the guys who are coming in. Obviously, we’ve got some really talented young guys that probably will have a lot of service time of their own in the not-too-distant future.”

Sneed appeared in eight games for the Astros last year, posting a 5.48 ERA while picking up a cutter at the behest of Strom. He threw six innings in a blowout loss to the Pirates in his Major League debut on June 27, threw twice in July, three times in August and twice in September. He made the trip between Round Rock and Houston six times.

“I tell everybody it’s a heck of a lot better than sitting in Triple-A all year,” Sneed said. “We got to know the road between Houston and Round Rock pretty well. It was good. Whenever they called me back, I was really happy. I just tried to take the ball whenever they needed me to take it and just be available every day.”

Sneed wasn’t with the Astros during the playoffs but was watching closely from his home in Kenai, Alaska. A substitute teacher in the offseason and an avid outdoorsman, Sneed made sure he was indoors each time the Astros played. He was scheduled to tutor students at Alaska Christian College during Game 7 of the World Series, but the school called and told him to stay home.

“It’s hard because you want them to win so bad, but you’re just sitting there 5,000 miles away and there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It was a good Series.”

Sneed doesn’t know what role he’ll pitch in this year, or what uniform he’ll wear. He’s likely to begin the season in Round Rock and be prepared to make the familiar 170-mile trip to Houston when the phone rings.

“We’ll see how it shakes out, whether I’m in the bullpen or starting or back and forth doing both,” he said. “For me, it’s kind of the same thing. I still make my same pitches. It just depends on what kind of game I’m pitching in.”

Despite making his big league debut last year -- a few of his students saw him pitch on TV -- life hasn’t changed much for Sneed. He and his wife, Hannah, bought a house, but he prefers to be outdoors hunting for antelope, deer and elk or fishing for trout.

“I still cut a lot of wood and substitute teach,” Sneed said, “and throw a baseball on occasion.”