SAN FRANCISCO -- D.J. Snelten remembers stepping into a big league clubhouse for the first time. He remembers meeting Buster Posey and chatting about pitching strategy with Nick Hundley. He remembers getting a call in the middle of the afternoon in Sacramento and being asked to drive to San Francisco to help a banged-up bullpen.
Oh, and he also remembers standing in front of a room of 60 professional baseball players and belting out "Plush" by the Stone Temple Pilots.
"At the beginning of spring they bring new guys up in front of the group and ask them questions and stuff like that," Snelten recalled over the phone recently, laughing. "Hunter Pence found out I was a bit of a singer."
During the monotony of spring training, that's the kind of revelation that'll have a guitar put in your hands for a little good-natured hazing. It's a memory Snelten cherishes, and one he is working tirelessly to recreate.
A 6-foot-6 lefty with a funky delivery, Snelten spent six seasons in the Giants organization and made four appearances for the big league club in 2018. After a brief stop with the Orioles and a year spent playing independent ball, Snelten, still just 27, is looking to make a comeback, and he's doing so in a very modern way.
The days of free agent pitchers attending tryouts are mostly gone. Like so many other pitchers looking for a second chance, Snelten has taken to social media. Last week, he posted videos on his Instagram page showing the ball coming out of his hand at 96 mph. This week, Snelten hit 97 mph during a bullpen session, and that video was posted on Twitter and spread by Rob Friedman, better known as @PitchingNinja. Friedman has became famous for posting clips of particularly nasty pitches, and there are plenty of big leaguers and MLB executives among his 182,000 followers.
DJ Snelten hitting 97mph, this time with a glove on 😂
DJ has made some big changes to his delivery & its showing. Much more glute oriented. We (myself & @primeathletics1) focused on rebuilding his load phase.
He has MLB experience.
• 6'7, 235lbs@FlatgroundApp pic.twitter.com/mskF5GfVpj— Nick Sanzeri (@SanzeriBaseball) November 26, 2019
"What I'm trying to do is get back and show everybody that what happened in the past and the metrics that were down in 2018, that was nothing more than an injury," Snelten said. "My velocity is back and better than ever."
Snelten was added to the Giants' 40-man roster after the 2017 season and went into camp as one of several young relievers with a chance to break through. But he caught the flu before spring training and then felt his shoulder stiffen as he did a weighted ball program to try and quickly build back strength.
A year earlier, Snelten had hit 96 mph with his fastball and sat at 93-94, but he was throwing in the high 80s when he showed up for the biggest spring of his life and the shoulder stiffness never really went away.
"I made the poor decision to not say anything to anyone," Snelten said last week. "It's something I always regret to this day."
Snelten still showed enough in Triple-A to get a call-up, but he gave up five earned runs in four appearances. His fastball maxed out at 94 mph in one appearance but was 90-91 in the other three. His average velocity in the big leagues was just 90.2 mph.
Snelten ended up with the Orioles and he told a team doctor that something was definitely wrong in his shoulder. After testing, he was shut down for six weeks to let his shoulder get back to normal. Snelten showed up this spring ready to take another shot at it, but he pitched just twice before getting released by the Orioles at the end of the spring.
It can be hard for big leaguers to find a job when they suddenly become free agents that time of year. For minor leaguers, it can often be close to impossible. Instead of sitting around and hoping an MLB team would send him to extended spring training, Snelten decided to pitch for the Chicago Dogs, an independent league team in Rosemont, Illinois who play less than an hour from his home.
Snelten made 20 starts for the Dogs, seeing his velocity creep back up towards the mid 90s and hit 95-96 at times. He has carried that over to the offseason, making mechanical changes during training sessions that he takes in between classes at the University of Minnesota, where the sports management student is older than a lot of his teachers. He said he has learned how to use his legs correctly in his delivery, which has tapped into additional strength.
Snelten had a 3.31 ERA in the minors and limited home runs and walks, but the numbers that might get him that coveted second shot are the ones popping up on social media. As teams look for any edge these days, many are turning to methods more fit for 2019. The A's signed a right-hander earlier this season because he lit up a radar gun in a speed pitch booth at Coors Field. Friedman's other account, @FlatgroundApp, is constantly promoting young pitchers. The bio for the account reads, "Harnessing the power of social media to break down barriers & prevent pitchers from falling thru the cracks."
"We're kind of in an era right now where there's a lot of velocity out in the market," Snelten said. "In order to compete you have to look that way and go that route. Pitching and getting outs always comes first, but before you do that you've got to get your foot back in the door. I'm just praying for an opportunity to get my foot back out there."
The 97 that popped up on the radar gun a few days ago was a lifetime best for Snelten, who said he feels like there's more in the tank. He'll continue to work out and make adjustments as he finishes up the fall semester, all with the hope that an MLB organization wants to take another look at a lefty who is throwing much harder than he did in the big leagues a year and a half ago.
"It was obviously a blessing before. Any opportunity to get to the big leagues is something that not many people can say," Snelten said. "There was nothing more I could have asked for than those nine days there, and I would do anything to have that again."