When Blake Snell ended the 2014 season with three scoreless innings, he didn't really think much of it.
It wasn't a big deal, beyond it being a great way to kick off the 2015 campaign, when the Rays left-handed pitching prospect tossed six shutout frames in his first start.
But it didn't take long for people to take notice, especially after Snell finished April without allowing a run, a stretch spanning 21 innings. Four starts into May and he still had a 0.00 ERA. That ran the streak to 46 consecutive scoreless innings in 2015, 49 in total when those three to end 2014 were added in.
"A lot is clearly going your way when you throw 46 shutout innings," Snell said. "It was a fun year. It was fun to be a part of it and enjoy it while it was going. I was really pleased with it. I just have to keep it going, that's the hard part."
Had Snell fizzled after that, the streak would've been just a fun footnote. But the southpaw kept on throwing well after it ended, making him the clear choice as MLBPipeline.com's Pitching Prospect of the Year.
Pitching across three levels, Snell topped the Minor Leagues with his 1.41 combined ERA and .182 batting average against. His 163 strikeouts were tied for fourth most, second among left-handers.
Snell didn't load up at the lower levels, either. After his scoreless 21 innings in the Florida State League, he moved up to Double-A, supposedly the toughest leap to make. He posted a 1.57 ERA and .191 BAA in 12 starts there before moving to Triple-A. The International League posed no greater a problem as Snell, now the No. 44 prospect on the Top 100 list, finished with a 1.83 ERA and .187 BAA in nine starts at that level. Over the course of his 25 games (23 starts) in 2015, Snell allowed more than two earned runs exactly one time.
"Blake had a remarkable season, and he very much deserves all of the honors he's receiving," Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom said. "He's made so much progress since entering our system, and especially in 2015. It's a credit to all of our staff who have worked with him, and most of all a credit to Blake. His aptitude and desire have gotten him to this point, and we're very excited about his future."
Snell was motivated from the outset. Named the 2014 Rays organizational pitcher of the year, he wanted to show he could back up that season with something even better. So while Snell couldn't believe he made it up to Triple-A at times, he also felt he had it in him.
"I can and I can't at the same time," Snell said of comprehending his success. "I knew I could be a lot better than I'd been the previous years. This whole offseason and going into this season, I just felt really confident. I was working every day to get better on and off the field, in the weight room and eating-wise. I took this year a lot more seriously than I did the previous years."
Rather than sulk, he chose to get motivated, a sure sign of maturity. Snell was asked to begin the year back in the Florida State League, where he had made 16 starts in 2014. The Snell of 2013 may have dwelled on that perceived snub. The newer model decided to use it as fuel.
"I was kind of upset, but I told myself this is where I belong, to prove I don't belong," Snell said. "Then I got called up and thought, 'OK, it's the same hitters, the same game. Who cares, make them respect you, not you respect them.'"
He did that, and then some, learning along the way. In Triple-A, Snell credits his teammates on the Durham Bulls pitching staff and Kyle Snyder for helping him learn to really study hitters and their tendencies for the first time consistently. That's a skill that should help him when he makes the final step to Tampa Bay.
That call, Snell admits, was one he was hoping would come this September. He'll have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason and, frankly, he thought perhaps he had earned it. But much like with the start in the FSL, Snell sees the bigger pitcher.
"I am disappointed," he said. "I felt I pitched my way to deserve to get a shot. But I do trust in what the Rays are doing. I believe they have my best interest in what they're doing. I believe I'll get my shot next year. So I get to head into this offseason to get ready to make a statement in Spring Training and prove to them I can start at the big league level. Hopefully next year I can show I deserve to be up there."
The ink of his final touches of his outstanding 2015 season still drying, it sounds like Snell is already preparing for what he can do for an encore in 2016.
"I'll be ready to go," Snell said. "I'm already home. I'm happy to sit down and reflect on the year I had, how far I've come as a player and as a person off the field. But I have to start planning for next season. I'm really excited about it."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.