In conversation with Blue Jays prospect Rowdy Tellez: The Glove

Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays infielder Rowdy Tellez during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays infielder Rowdy Tellez during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Part one of our conversation with Toronto Blue Jays prospect Rowdy Tellez, ‘The Bat’, can be found here

Read ten scouting reports on Blue Jays first-baseman Rowdy Tellez, and you’ll see the same phrasing nine times. An MLB-ready bat with an advanced plate approach for his age, but defensive and athletic tools that could limit him at the next level.

Tellez disagrees, and with the work he’s put in on and off the diamond over the past year, those scouting reports may soon need an edit.

“Everybody has always knocked my defence,” Tellez said. “I always said that I was going to be a Gold Glove defender so I work and work to be that Gold Glove defender.”

With Edwin Encarnacion due to hit free agency this coming offseason and room for improvement around Justin Smoak on the MLB roster, Tellez could be in contention for a starting job as early as next spring. His bat-first profile has many discussing him as a candidate for being the designated hitter, but Tellez sees his game as going well beyond that.

“I want my infield to be 100% confident in throwing the ball to me. I think my infield and my defence is going to carry me also,” said the 21-year-old. “Everybody is going to say ‘he’s on an American League team so he’ll have the ability to DH when he needs to.’  I don’t want to DH, I really don’t.”

First base, unlike a premium defensive spot such as shortstop or centre-field, does not require elite foot speed or even top-rate agility. With strong positioning, sure hands, and sound fundamentals, a player like Tellez can quietly pad his value to a roster. This past offseason, he worked with longtime Marlins and Cubs first-baseman Derrek Lee.

Also working against Tellez is the (often subconscious) assumption that big-bodied first-basemen are poor defensively.

“They see a bigger person,” Tellez said of the perception. “By no means am I a little person or a slight body. I am a huge person. Six-four and 245 pounds, I am a big person. There are a lot of big fielding first-basemen in the MLB that are great, like Anthony Rizzo, Adrian Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman, or Eric Hosmer. We have one, Justin Smoak, who is an excellent fielder and I had the honour to work with him in spring training and I learned so much from him on how to trust my hands and move my feet.

“We also have Casey Kotchman in triple-A Buffalo who, on paper, in the field, is the best-fielding first-baseman in Major League history with the highest fielding percentage. I learned so much from them, and both of those guys have helped me a ton this year with being able to trust myself at first base.”

Tellez is right. Kotchman is the all-time MLB leader with a fielding percentage of .9975% at first, committing just 18 errors over his ten-year career.

Defensively and on the bases, perhaps even more than at the plate, Tellez’s game has been aided by changes in his diet and to his body. Multiple people I’ve spoken to throughout the Blue Jays organization have compared it to Roberto Osuna‘s physical changes before his surprise ascent in 2015.

“In high school I believed a lot of the hype that people were putting out about me,” Tellez admitted, “reading into myself too much and believed that my bat was going to take me to the big leagues.

“Everything I do needs to be right. My girlfriend helps out a lot with making sure I’m eating right, my family helps out and I have significant people in my life that help me with eating correctly and maintaining, along with my mental toughness, to make sure I’m eating right and make sure I’m training right.”

The results are following these changes, too. Tellez has been charged with just four errors this season and has taken a clear step forward in the field as he continues to push towards his Major League debut.

“I think what’s been a huge thing for me is having the right people in my corner but also being mentally tough enough to say no to things and being tough enough to get out and grind for what I want.”

Next: Keep calm and discuss the Bautista trade rumours

Twitter:  @KeeganMatheson