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Snyder motivated to keep '06 in past

Snyder motivated to keep '06 in past

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- About a year ago at this time, Brad Snyder, glove in hand, took a mock batting stance and tried to snag a ball thrown his way with a quick swipe of the glove.

He swung and missed, and the ball hit him square in the nose.

That, perhaps, was the first ominous sign of things to come for Snyder in 2006.

The Indians had hoped that '06 would see Snyder, one of their top outfield prospects, log the majority of his at-bats at Triple-A Buffalo. Rather, he remained holed up at Double-A Akron, the victim of what felt like a seasonlong slump at the plate.

Much worse, Snyder simply wasn't having any fun, and it showed in his attitude. Playful moments like the one described above all but disappeared.

"It was pretty much [an example of] how not to act and do and prepare yourself on the field," he said. "I wasn't playing like myself. It never got to the point where I was a total jerk or anything. But I kind of see myself as a guy who likes to have fun and joke around, and everything was way too serious last year."

The resulting numbers were seriously disappointing to the 24-year-old Snyder. He hit .270 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs in 135 games for the Aeros. Most troubling of all, he struck out 158 times in 523 at-bats.

As the season wore on, Snyder could see he was taking a dangerous step back in his development. But he was frustrated by the fact that he couldn't really see the ball coming his way.

Virtually from the time he was picked up by the Tribe with the 18th overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Snyder has battled eye problems. An infection in his right eye reshaped his cornea and kept him out of his first big-league camp with the Tribe in '04.

The infection is no longer an issue, but Snyder's blurred vision in his right eye remains. And the contact lenses he was using in '06 didn't help him as much as he hoped.

"I wasn't always comfortable and seeing the ball well from my contact," he said. "I thought I had the best lenses I could have for me, but it was frustrating, because I knew I could see the ball better, and I didn't have the resources to get it done."

This offseason, Snyder was afforded just such a resource. Former farm director John Farrell got him in touch with eye specialist Dr. Bill Harrison in Laguna Beach, Calif.

"He set me up with some eye exercises and got me a new contact," Snyder said. "It has me seeing more even in my eyes than ever before. I'm seeing much clearer."

The eyes have it in the Indians' clubhouse these days. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta is raving about the benefits of having LASIK surgery performed on his eyes this winter, and Snyder is equally enthralled with his new lenses.

But until Snyder cuts down on his strikeouts, he'll have to wait to join Peralta on the big-league club.

"Basically," he said, "I just need to go out there and show everybody I'm worth keeping around."

Fortunately for Snyder, the Indians definitely think he is.

"He's a scout's dream," farm director Ross Atkins said of Snyder. "He has bat speed, raw power, ability to hit, run and play defense. You look at the five tools, and he doesn't have any glaring concerns, except for his bat to ball."

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The strikeout numbers do jump out, and they're attributed mainly to Snyder chasing breaking balls down and away. But he did walk 62 times last season, compiling a respectable .351 on-base percentage.

With the new contacts, Snyder believes he can further improve his plate discipline.

"Obviously I haven't played any games in them yet, but just taking BP and live BP, I can tell a difference," he said. "That, in turn, makes me a little more confident, because my eyes were a big part of why I was so down last year."

It's most likely that Snyder will spend the upcoming year at Buffalo, splitting his time between the two corner outfield spots.

In a pool of outfield prospects that includes Shin-Soo Choo, Franklin Gutierrez, Ben Francisco and Trevor Crowe, Snyder will be up against plenty of competition to help the Indians at the big-league level in the near future. The club remains optimistic that he can do just that, regardless of his difficult '06.

"I think Brad is more concerned about last season than we are, as an organization," Atkins said.

Besides, '06 wasn't without its positives for Snyder. In the final 16 games of the regular season, he hit .388 with four homers and 11 RBIs, upping his season average from .255 to .270.

"I knew if I didn't change something, I was going to have the worst year of my life," he said. "Basically, in the last month, I took a bad season and made it into an average season."

Snyder started having fun again, and he's come back looking for more in '07.

"I think having last year behind me and taking a lot from it has really, really helped me," he said. "I just need to get through this year staying strong and confident and having fun."

And to this point, Snyder hasn't been nailed in the nose by any loose balls. So he's off to a fine start.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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