In the past couple of weeks, the news surrounding the Padres' affiliate in San Antonio revolved around Ethan Salas becoming the youngest Double-A player since 2014.
On Wednesday night, Robby Snelling entered the conversation, one that did still feature Salas. The No. 3 left-handed pitching prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline dazzled with nine strikeouts over five hitless innings with the 17-year-old serving as his backstop en route to the Missions' 9-2 win over Wichita at Riverfront Stadium.
Making only his second Double-A start, Snelling picked up his first victory at the level and the 10th of his pro career after throwing 81 pitches, 51 for strikes, while matching his career high with nine punchouts. MLB's No. 64 overall prospect considered it an impressive rebound after only going 3 2/3 innings in his previous start against Amarillo on Aug. 23.
"It was awesome, especially coming off of last week," Snelling said. "[I was] really frustrated with five walks. I was lucky to get out of there with only one run. I really put in the work to get to this outing this week. And I was happy that it showed a little bit."
Each of the three baserunners Snelling allowed came via walks – one in each of the first three innings – but he was relatively spotless aside from that. In the bottom of the fourth, the 19-year-old struck out the side on just 12 pitches. And he stayed strong until the end of the outing, fanning two batters in his fifth and final frame.
"We went into the game with a very strong gameplan," Snelling said of working with Salas, who he didn't shake off all night. "He's done a great job these last couple of outings of doing notes and being able to bring stuff into our pregame meeting along with my notes. Then we can kind of put our heads together and see how we're going to attack each hitter."
In his first pro season since being drafted 39th overall in the 2022 MLB Draft, Snelling has quickly established himself as a strikeout artist. The third-ranked Padres prospect has fanned 110 batters – good for a 10.4 K/9 ratio -- while walking 32 with only three home runs and one hit batsman through 95 innings.
Through 20 starts, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder sports a 10-3 record and a 1.80 ERA while holding hitters to a lowly .209 average.
"I love going out and watching batting practice and being able to see like what pitches you know a hitter likes to hit," Snelling said. "We have a pretty cool stat breakdown of how batting averages change depending on counts. If you throw the first-pitch strike, I think you know hitters' batting average drops by about 100 points. So if you keep filling up the zone, you give yourself more of a chance."
Salas, MLB's No. 5 prospect, has had one of the best views in the house for a good portion of Snelling's season. The highly touted teen made a flashy Double-A debut the night before Snelling's first San Antonio start on Aug. 23, lining a walk-off double in extra innings. Snelling started the season at Single-A Lake Elsinore, with Salas joining him there at the end of May. After the lefty moved on to High-A Fort Wayne on June 27, the backstop followed on Aug. 8.
Their schedules evened up as the batterymates moved within two levels of the Major Leagues, and Snelling's last three outings have been in tandem with Salas. For most of the season, the lefty counted on the Storm's Anthony Vilar behind the plate and he credited the 24-year-old with showing him the ropes.
"Up here is really the only only spot that [Salas has] really been kind of my catcher, per se," Snelling said. "[Vilar] was the one that taught me like what it was like to have a great relationship with your catcher. ... So, you know, I really credit him with that and how I've handled having this change of having Ethan catching me. It's been great so far."