Heralded first baseman and Blue Jays’ prospect Rowdy Tellez arrived in Lansing for Thursday’s game with the press box all abuzz. The in-game entertainment staff were impressed that the Lugnuts had just received a player named “Rowdy;” media who didn’t follow the Jays’ prospects closely looked at his age (19) and physical stats (6’4″, 260 lbs) and were amazed. Others (like me), knew all about Rowdy and were looking forward to seeing him up against a higher level of competition. I interviewed Tellez before, during spring training for the Canadian Baseball Network and you can find that podcast on the Canadian Baseball Network site.
Tellez’s promotion was a surprise to everyone, including the player himself: “At the last meeting on the bus, [Bluefield Blue Jays’ manager] Dennis Holmberg decided to say my name, so I got called up. . . . I was kinda shocked but at the same time . . . I wanted to move on, get up here and play.”
While Tellez was drafted in the 30th round of the 2013 draft, he was rated much higher than that: Baseball America had him ranked as their best left-handed power bat in the draft class. He dropped from around the second round to the 30th because he had a strong commitment to USC but the Blue Jays managed to find $850,000 ($750,000 over slot) to sign the big young power hitter and get him in their organization. While he was off to a slow start as a professional, Tellez’s bat woke up towards the end of the season last year, playing with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, and finished with a .234/.319/.371 triple slash line.
Assigned to Bluefield this year (where he had played in the two games of playoffs at the end of last year), Tellez got off to a rocky start in 2014, hitting only .103/.191./121 in his first 17 games. Rowdy told me that there wasn’t anything mechanical but “it was a whole mental mindset of trying to do too much and getting away from being who I am. We had some rovers and instructors come in and said ‘You better shape up.'”
Rowdy did exactly that. From July 8 to August 18 with Bluefield, Tellez was a different player, hitting .376/.433/.556 with ten doubles, a triple and four home runs, driving in 29 runs. Starting July 8, Rowdy embarked on a 13-game hitting streak and only failed to hit in five of 36 games, taking 13 walks and only striking out 15 times in that span, resulting in his promotion to Lansing.
Coming up to a new team in Lansing allows Rowdy to reunite with some of his former teammates. “I know literally everyone on this team so it wasn’t much of a huge culture change when I got here, it was pretty easy for me to go through it. . . . When I got the call up here, you see all those same faces again so it’s like coming home.”
That comfort level with his teammates has likely helped Tellez contribute to the Lugnuts immediately after joning the club. I (along with pretty much every other observer) was very impressed with Rowdy’s work through his first few games in Lansing.
There are several things that really stood out to me when watching Tellez in game situations. The first is that he has excellent plate discipline. He would take close pitches and had a sense of when the pitcher was trying to get him to chase breaking balls outside of the strike zone. In fact, in his third game, he struck out twice but both times were looking at pitches that could very well have been called balls. The second strikeout was against tough lefty Jose Jose who struck out all three batters he faced but even then, Tellez didn’t look overmatched.
I also didn’t see Tellez swing and miss until his third game. Every time he decided to swing in his first two games, he either fouled the ball off or put it in play. Along with the fact that he hit the ball hard most of the time, this is a big indication of Tellez’s ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. In his third game, Tellez had a base hit in the ninth inning against Silvino Bracho, a 22-year-old Venezuelan righty who has struck out 68 batters in 41 1/3 innings this year and who is three years older than Tellez. Tellez was able to make an adjustment and go the other way (between the 5-6 hole) with a solid single with two strikes, which shows how mature his approach is, particularly when Bracho struck out the side that inning, including swinging strikeouts of Dawel Lugo and Daniel Klein. While most of his teammates were late on Bracho’s fastball, Tellez was able to corral it for a base hit.
Tellez also impressed me with his baseball sense. There was one double play that he broke up in his first game and in his third game, he ran the bases well, not over- or under-committing on a pop up that was eventually not caught by the defense.
On defense, Tellez is still a work in progress but he’s come a long way and (from what I saw), he isn’t a liability at first base. A hard worker, Tellez was out early on Saturday, working with roving infield instructor Mike Mordecai on his defense and I have few worries about him defensively. His arm is stronger than you might expect from a first baseman although I didn’t have a chance to see how accurate it might be.
And then there’s the power. Watching Tellez in batting practice and in the games, he shows off his power (hitting balls over the fence to left center field) but he’s not the type of “watch me hit home runs” player that someone with his level of ability could be. He definitely doesn’t treat batting practice as a home run derby but is just trying to make solid contact to all field. His BP sessions weren’t the most electric I had seen (I saw D.J. Davis hit four balls in a row over the fence and just fall short on one that would have made it five in a row) but Tellez was definitely working on things and the way in which balls would jump off his bat was very impressive.
What have I see from Rowdy Tellez is young player who is hungry to improve but who is also not out of his depth. While he’s only 19, he’s very mature at the plate and on the bases and his skipping a level (Vancouver) will not harm his development in any way. He’s on the right track and could be a very good big league power bat down the road.
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