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Addressing Concern’s over Rowdy Tellez’s Bat

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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 /
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Prospect analysis, ranking, and evaluation can often be a futile, frustratingly fickle industry. A number of “non-prospects” find a way to be meaningful major league players every year, while a host of first round, can’t miss prospects fizzle out in the minor leagues.

Despite this, prospects get a ton of attention across the league, arguably more-so than any other professional sports league in North America. Personally, I fall victim to this. I love the world of prospect analysis, but with that love comes confusion when there is the odd prospect who gets caught in between opinions on complete opposite sides of the spectrum.

Rowdy Tellez is one of these prospects.

Varied Scouting Profile on Tellez

Notable ESPN columnist and prospect writer, Keith Law, has never been a fan of Tellez, saying as recently as November 2016 that he doesn’t see Tellez as a capable MLB bat, citing the fact that he’s a bad athlete, and that he “can’t hit good fastballs.”

In his 2016 version of the Blue Jays top 10 prospects, he ranked Tellez 14, saying the following regarding his ability to hit fastballs: “Rowdy Tellez (14) has big power but could not hit even an average fastball in the Arizona Fall League, as he struggled to adjust to off-speed stuff as well. He has played first base but is better suited to DH.” In his 2017 list, Tellez is ranked ninth, but still raises the concern that he will struggle against higher velocity.

Tellez was left off of Baseball America’s Top 20 Eastern League Prospects, and during the Eastern League Top 20 Prospect Chat, Josh Norris of Baseball America had the following to say about Tellez: “Some evaluators noted he doesn’t have the bat speed to portend the big power necessary to profile as a major league first baseman. Almost all of his power, too, is to the pull-side. He’s not a particularly deft defender, and was aided by New Hampshire’s short porch in right field.”

Christopher Crawford, a prospect writer and evaluator for a number of different reputable sources, ranked Tellez 20th in his 2017 Top 20 Blue Jays Prospects (which is excellent and can be purchased here). Crawford admitted that Tellez has his industry fans, but that he’s simply not one of them.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

He highlights his raw power, ability to control the strike zone, and strong strikeout rate for a power hitter as legitimate strengths, but cites the fact that his defensive profile and body type will inevitably push him to DH, and he simply can’t rank a DH profile hitter high unless the bat is elite.

So, Tellez clearly has his doubters, but there are writers who believe he has a future as an impact MLB bat. John Manuel, editor at Baseball America, felt very different than fellow BA writer, Josh Norris, stating that despite fringy athleticism and defense, he belongs in the conversation with fellow 1B prospects such as Dominic Smith, Bobby Bradley, Casey Gillaspie, Chris Shaw, and Jake Bauers.

“I’m a believer in the bat, he controls the K zone, he doesn’t strike out excessively, he holds his own against LHPs; I see a lot to like,” Manuel explained. “The arrows are all pointed up with Rowdy Tellez. I like him a lot.”

Bernie Pleskoff, a former major league scout for both the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners, sees Tellez as a future above average regular, citing his raw power as his calling card, but he calls his plate discipline and contact skills as potentially his most impressive yet surprising skill.

In the world of analyzing prospects, it’s rare to see the evaluation of a player so distinctly different from various professionals. There’s typically some industry cohesion on a player’s strengths and weaknesses, and the potential future impact that evaluators see will obviously vary from each other to a certain degree, but to this extent is something I haven’t seen very often.

Taking a Closer Look at the Concerns

The concerns over Tellez’s lack of athleticism and defense is by all means valid, as it shrinks his margin for error as a player. His career and future success is completely dependent on his bat. However, his .290/.380/.508/.888 with a 152 wRC+ (3rd in the Eastern League, and best mark for sub 22-year-olds) at AA as a 21-year-old should propel his bat, and mitigate some of that risk.

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Other concerns, such as his power being largely to his pull-side, doesn’t concern me much at this point. This is common for young hitters, especially when they’re just beginning to tap into plus raw power. Another concern would be his propensity to put the ball on the ground too often. His batted ball profile at AA this year wasn’t ideal for a hitter who will rely on home run power and the ability to drive the ball.

According to MLB Farm, Tellez put the ball on the ground 42.7% of the time. You’d like to see that number closer to 35%, as ground balls for someone with Tellez’s foot speed are useless the majority of the time. His 20% LD rate is good to see, but it’s the 29.2% FB rate that needs to go way up.

For home run hitters, you’d like to see that number north of 35%. He’s the type of hitter where most of damage will come when he drives the ball into the outfield. He posted a 21.3 HR/FB%, which only thirteen qualified hitters in the MLB surpassed, so he clearly does damage when he gets the ball in the air, it’s just about getting it in the air to a higher degree.

This is likely due to the lack of loft in his swing, but this can be altered by mechanical adjustments. The concern that raised my eyebrows the most came from Law, when he said that he’s concerned over Tellez’s ability to hit good fastballs. It’s perplexing, as it seems confusing how Tellez could have put together successful AFL and AA appearances without being able to hit a good fastball. Mind you, the average fastball in the majors will obviously be much better.

Related Story: Jays Journal #4 Prospect - Rowdy Tellez

It’s impossible to believe that a professional with a resume like Law’s, who’s seen thousands and thousands of players play the game, would make such a declaration without having substantial reasoning or evidence to back it.

This got me thinking about Tellez’s mechanics at the plate, and if there was something present in his swing that could be leading to these concerns.

In order to break down Tellez’s swing, I’ll be using video from Tellez’s 2015 AFL campaign in an at-bat against current MLB pitcher, James Paxton. The pitch is a 93 mph 4-seam fastball on the outer third of the plate, roughly belt high to Tellez. Tellez rips it for a home run to right field.
Paxton’s fastball is a good one, and he can run it up into the mid to high 90’s with ease. With his arm angle and deception, you would be very happy with this home run at first glance, but a closer look reveals some issues with Tellez’s mechanics.

First of all, it’s a bad pitch. Paxton clearly misses his spot and leaves this pitch up in the zone. Paxton was pitching in the AFL due to an injury shortened 2015 season, so his spotty command could be attributed to that. Tellez gets the barrel out front, and hits it hard to right field. Hard to nitpick a home run, but ideally, a pitch like this is drive to left-centre.

In order to illustrate the concerns I see in Tellez’s swing, I’m going to use a Freddie Freeman at-bat from 2016 for comparisons sake. The pitch Freeman hits for a home run is also a 93 mph fastball on the outer edge from a left-handed pitcher. In no way do I expect Tellez to hit like Freeman, or for Tellez to provide results close to what Freeman has produced. I love Freeman’s swing and his mechanics at the plate, so using him as a comparison can be a good way to see where Tellez is mechanically flawed.

The first set of screenshots of the two will show some important factors in breaking down Tellez.

The photo’s above were acquired from MLB.com’s video archives. The biggest issue here, is Tellez’s right arm. You’ll see that his right arm is already straightening at this point, putting his hands far away from his body. In the other photo, you’ll see that Freeman’s hands are still tight to his body because his front arm is bent, giving him the opportunity to keep his hands inside the baseball throughout his swing and up until contact.

This flaw is referred to as casting, because when a hitter’s front arm straightens like you see with Tellez, the barrel of the bat casts through the zone, almost swinging around the plate, instead of going towards the contact point in a direct line. Casting through the zone creates a number of issues.

First of all, hitters who cast have a tendency to open up and pull off the ball. You’ll see this by looking at Tellez’s lower half, as his right knee is pointing to left field, whereas Freeman’s is pointing towards the third base dugout. Tellez’s right hip is also pulling open, comparing the position of each hitter’s stripe on the side of their pants is a good indicator of this. When hitter’s fly open like this, they have a tendency to roll over often and struggle to hit the ball to the opposite field with authority. This is currently the case with Tellez, as you can see by his 2016 spray chart below, acquired from MLB Farm.

Secondly, it lengthens a hitter’s swing. Freeman can stay direct and short to the baseball because his hands are close to his body, giving his barrel a direct line to the ball. He keeps his hands inside the baseball, allowing him to hit multiple pitches in all zones, and drive the ball in any direction. Since Tellez’s arms get extended so quickly, his barrel needs to wrap around the strike zone in order for the barrel to get the ball.

Simply put, his barrel takes a longer route to get to the baseball. In doing so, he’s susceptible to offspeed stuff, because he needs to start his swing earlier. Freeman can wait a touch longer to start his swing, giving him a better chance to recognize and adapt to offspeed pitches.

This is where Law’s main concern starts to make a lot of sense. Since Tellez’s barrel path is long, he’s really going to struggle with higher velocity, especially when it’s located on the inner half. Furthermore, he’ll get eaten alive by anything moving hard towards his hands (cutter/slider from a RHP), because that will cut down on the amount of time he has to get the barrell to the ball, which isn’t a lot due to the length of the swing.

Lastly, this swing limits one of Tellez’s biggest strengths in his power. It’s not impossible for a hitter with this swing to hit for power, but it makes it awfully difficult to utilize it on a consistent basis. Tellez will hit mistakes hard, but his margin for error is very small. The timing needs to be perfect for his barrel to catch the ball in a position where the ball will stay fair.

These next photos show the contact point for each hitter. Yes, Tellez catches barrel here, but in order to hit this ball hard, he needs to catch it in front of the plate (closer to the pitcher). Whereas Freeman lets this ball travel, and his direct, short path to the ball allows him to drive it to left field with a contact point much further back. You can tell by the direction each is looking that Tellez is catching this ball much closer to the pitcher.

This becomes a problem, because if Tellez needs to catch a ball on the outer half this far out from home plate, he’ll need to be even further out front on a pitch that is six inches closer to him, due to his hands being so far away from his body. Furthermore, if that pitch is six inches closer to him, and at 95 mph or higher, he’ll have a really difficult time getting the barrell to the ball, while keeping the ball fair.

Meanwhile, if Freeman sees a pitch at 95 plus on the inner half, he’s able to let the ball travel further, keep his hands inside the baseball, and use his short swing to get the barrel to the ball.

I can’t know for sure if this is what’s causing the concern that evaluators and scouts have expressed, but this flaw in his mechanics absolutely looks like something that will hamper him moving forward. Of course, this is an at bat from 2015, so he’s likely made adjustments since then.

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I’ve viewed some video from his 2016 season at AA, and the issue still exists, at least to a certain degree. It’s hard to pinpoint this as a deal breaker, or even a flaw that will prevent him from being a successful pro by looking at a handful of minor league videos. But, at the very least, it can provide a visual representation into why there are concerns about his future.

Being a successful major leaguer often hinges on being able to adapt. Tellez has had success at every minor league stop he’s been to, but his ability to be a consistent performer in the MLB will come down to adapting to MLB calibre pitching. Both his approach and mechanics, with the help of the coaching staff, will constantly be in motion in order to succeed.

I’m a big Tellez fan, I see him as a potential long-term solution at 1B, and I’m excited to watch him in Spring Training. That said, there’s no doubting the validity of the concerns from various professionals. The issues outlined above give a visual representation of those concerns, and give an idea of what to watch for both in Spring Training, and during his inevitable call-up to the big leagues.

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