In a previous post, I mentioned that Rowdy Tellez would make a good complementary piece at first base and designated hitter for the Blue Jays in 2017. In contrast to some who have argued that he’ll be ready for prime time late in the season, I believe that Tellez would not be hurt by rushing him to Toronto.
The last high-ceilinged, left-handed power hitter the Blue Jays had in their system was none other than Travis Snider. In this article, I’ll discuss some of the similarities and some of the differences between the two players.
Travis was the Blue Jays’ first round pick in the 2006 draft, going as the #14 pick overall and signing for $1.7 million (the #1 overall pick that year signed for $3.5 million, so Snider got just under half of that value).
Rowdy was the Jays’ 30th round pick in the 2013 draft, signing for a bonus of $850,000. Don’t let that 30th-round fool you. Tellez was on teams’ radars as the best left-handed power hitter in the draft but fell due to concerns about signability (he had a strong commitment to USC), position, and body issues. Unlike with Snider, Tellez’s $850,000 bonus pales in comparison to the $6.35 million that first-overall pick Mark Appel got that year.
Snider hit .325/.412/.567 in his first season in the minors playing with Pulaski in the Appalachian League and hitting 11 home runs. He jumped to Lansing the following year, and hit .313/.377/.525 with 16 home runs and 35 doubles in his Age-19 season. Snider actually made his major league debut in his third season of professional ball, at the age of 20, after hitting a combined .275/.358/.480 with 23 home runs in the minors (spanning Dunedin, New Hampshire and Syracuse). Travis hit .301/.338/.466 in 80 plate appearances in his major league debut.
On the flip side, Tellez had to deal with struggles as an 18 year old in the Gulf Coast League where he hit .234/.319/.371 with five doubles, three triples and two home runs. He spent most of the following year in the Appalachian League, starting to put things together, hitting .293/.358/.424 with 11 doubles, a triple and four home runs in 218 plate appearances, getting a taste of Lansing with a .357/.440/.500 slash line in 49 plate appearances, hitting two home runs.
It really wasn’t until Tellez’s third professional season in 2015 that he started to break out a bit (although it was still much more modest than Snider’s break out). Tellez hit .289/.347/.454 over 447 plate appearances split between Lansing and Dunedin, losing time due to injury but hitting 14 home runs and improving his walk rate and isolated slugging (ISO) at the higher level while his strikeout level remained stable.
After three years in the pros, Tellez had reached Advanced-A Dunedin while Snider, also a high-school draftee, had played 24 major league games.
The Next Step
Snider started the 2009 season as an everyday big leaguer, playing 31 games and hitting .242/.292/.394 with a fairly high 23.1% strikeout rate. Sent to Triple-A Las Vegas, he tore up the league (like many players do playing there), hitting .337/.431/.663 with 13 doubles, a triple and 14 home runs in 204 plate appearances, earning a call back to Toronto in mid-August. After his return to Toronto, Snider did post some better numbers (.239/.351/.437) but his strikeouts went way up, to 31.5% in his final 44 games with Toronto.
In 2010, Snider was hampered by injuries but hit .255/.304/.463 with a strikeout rate approaching 25% and in 2011, that strikeout rate was 27.7% and his slash line had dipped to .225/.269/.348 with just three home runs in 49 games.
Rowdy Tellez hit Double-A in 2016 and no, we can’t make the same comparison to Snider playing in the majors, but Tellez not only maintained his success from the previous season but improved upon it, building on some trends that were already going in the right direction. Tellez hit .297/.387/.530 as a 21 year old in Double-A, smashing 29 doubles, two triples and 23 home runs while improving his walk rate to 12.3% and his strikeout rate to 17.9%.
What’s the Difference
The biggest difference between Rowdy Tellez and Travis Snider is that Tellez has failed. Snider was an unqualified success in the low minors while Tellez struggled in his first year and had a solid, but not quite stellar, second season, still in rookie ball. Snider’s failures didn’t come until he was already playing in the major leagues after just 1416 plate appearances in the minor leagues. When he failed, he made adjustments and eventually, after a few years of constant adjustment, wasn’t able to compete for long at the big league level. In parts of eight major league seasons, Snider has a rather nondescript .244/.311/.399 slash line with a total of 3.0 wins above replacement (half of which came in his pretty decent 2014 campaign with the Pirates).
Snider’s early successes hid the fact that he struck out quite a bit. In his only extended stretch in Double-A (in 2008), Snider struck out in 27.4% of his 423 plate appearances, racking up 116 Ks over that span. With the exception of his very good 2014 season, Snider has never had a big league season with a strikeout rate below 24.8%. That means, except for 2014, Snider has struck out in a full quarter of his major league at bats.
On the other hand, thanks to his low draft position and weak first season in the professional ranks, Rowdy Tellez has been able to fly under the radar, making adjustments in the minor leagues. Tellez doesn’t strike out nearly as much and, he has learned how to maximize his abilities by being patient and taking what the pitchers give him. Taking a look at Tellez’s heat map from last year (see above), you’ll notice that he tends to spray the ball around a lot more than many power hitters. His high walk rate shows his patience with pitchers working around him, and the fact that he improved month over month, without any really cold stretches (except for April), all season long, meant that he was constantly learning and adapting.
This mature Rowdy Tellez, the guy who had a .323/.405/.646 slash line with 11 doubles and 10 home runs just 35 games in August and September, is the one whom I think is getting close to being ready for prime time.
Of course, Rowdy Tellez would benefit from another half season in the minors but I don’t think that he’ll fall apart if the Jays had him in the major league lineup from Opening Day.
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