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Healthy Snider looks to capitalize on time with Bucs

With prospect Polanco waiting in Minors, right fielder ready for breakthrough season

Special to

PHILADELPHIA -- Travis Snider's scouting report on Gregory Polanco is as glowing as that of practically everyone.

"He is a great player with a bright future ahead of him," said Snider, neither tersely nor begrudgingly, even though the countdown towards the projected midseason arrival of the Pirates' No. 1 prospect is presumed to coincide with that of the end of Snider's opportunity to claim right field at PNC Park.

Last summer's acquisition of Marlon Byrd at the Trade Deadline sent Snider and Jose Tabata to the bench during the Pirates' successful stretch drive. If, with Byrd starting 2014 in Philadelphia and Polanco at Triple-A Indianapolis, Snider turns out to be nothing but a placeholder, he'll do it from a much better mental place than in '13, when a toe issue essentially robbed him of the swing that made him the 14th pick in the '06 Draft.

"It's a mental grind when you are playing in chronic pain all the time," Snider said. "Every single day was a challenge, mentally and physically, trying to be able to get quality work done and still have enough left in the tank to be able to go out and stand on your feet for nine innings.

"It was good experience in that it opened my eyes to understand that to move forward in my career, there are things I have to be careful about doing, as well as things I need to be doing more often. I need to take ownership. Bottom line is I am the one that is going to dictate my success as a player."

In the offseason, surgeons cleaned bone spurs out of the ball of Snider's left foot and removed the medial sesamoid-- the small bone on the underside of the ball. They also performed a bunion correction that involved placement of a plate and four screws.

You don't have to be a podiatrist to surmise that Snider had a down year in 2013. He hit .215 with five homers and 25 RBIs on one hot foot, and it did a number on his still-promising swing.

"My back foot being the one I push off with, the way I was going about it wasn't allowing me to stay balanced in my legs through my swing, which in turn causes you swing at more pitches out of the zone," Snider said. "And it decreases your power. Guys who have solid balance in their legs are able to drive the ball more consistently, something I was able to do for most of my career.

"Last season was a roller coaster, having some periods where I felt good or good enough to get the work in necessary to polish things up. But over time, it just wore down to the point where it was just too much."

The problem corrected, the swing on the mend through a .340 spring training, Snider has determined the last thing he needs to do is worry too much about his future with the Pirates. If he begins to consistently live up to his promise, he will land elsewhere in the Majors.

"A swing always is a work in progress," Snider said. "You have to continue to develop a routine and mindset of what you need to accomplish to stay on top of the little things that go on mechanically with your swing. For me to be successful at this level, the focus remains on what I have to do to be prepared every single day and being a good teammate."

The latter was made easier as the 2013 Pirates finally had a winning year after 20 straight losing seasons. Snider, who entered last season aware that surgery might be necessary, said he has no regrets about putting it off. He is not a regretful guy, and if he was going to be on a bench, there was no better one to be on than Pittsburgh's while the franchise turned around.

"I've never experienced anything in a professional baseball atmosphere similar to that," Snider said. "It was something every guy who was involved with will remember for a long time. It was a good taste; [it] lights the fire to make us want a lot more."

It beats a fire in your foot for sure. The Pirates not only haven't seen the last of Travis Snider, they may have yet to see the best of him.

Jay Greenberg is a contributor to

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gregory Polanco, Travis Snider