Blue Jays: Rowdy Tellez and his future with the team

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 22: Rowdy Tellez #68 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits an RBI double in the eighth inning during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on September 22, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 22: Rowdy Tellez #68 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits an RBI double in the eighth inning during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on September 22, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Even with an impressive spring training, Rowdy Tellez still found himself assigned to the minor league camp and is slated to start in the season in AAA. With some major league experience under his belt, where does Rowdy fit in the Toronto Blue Jays rebuilding plans?

Hailing from Sacramento, California, Rowdy Tellez was a steal for the Toronto Blue Jays when he was drafted in 2013. After accepting a scholarship to play baseball for the University of Southern California, many teams passed on Tellez until the Blue Jays selected him in the 30th round, convincing him to forego his scholarship with an $850,000 signing bonus.

Making his Toronto Blue Jays debut in 2018, Rowdy burst on the scene by hitting a pinch hit double in his first plate appearance of his career. He would then go on to become the first player since 1913 to hit six doubles in his first three games, an impressive feat for any player, let alone a player called up due to the September roster expansion. He would finish the season strong, batting .314 AVG over 73 plate appearances, swatting 5 home runs and 11 RBI’s.

Following the 2018 season, Rowdy Tellez saw a lot of action this past spring training, appearing in over 20 games. He continued to swing a hot bat, slashing a .280 AVG with five home runs, with the latter statistic leading the team in 2019 spring training.

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Even with the impressive 2018 and spring training, why are we seeing Rowdy Tellez going back down to AAA? What gives? One of the big reasons is the veteran presence at the 1B and DH position.

Currently slated at 1B for 2019 is Justin Smoak, who is surrounded with question marks as the season begins. A valuable player for the Jays the past two seasons, Smoak is entering the final year of his contract, and could be a player whose named is mentioned in a mid-season trade with a team currently in a rebuild. Given that he does have the veteran presence, the Blue Jays could choose to keep him around for a few more years, but the price tag will be most likely be larger than the $8 million (per Spotrac) he is making this year.

Even with 1B currently occupied, why doesn’t Rowdy Tellez come up and play in the DH role for the team? Enter Kendrys Morales.

Morales is entering the final year of his contract as well, and has been entrenched at the DH position since the departure of Edwin Encarnacion prior to the 2017 season. Compared to Smoak, Morales does not have a lot of trade value as the 2019 season begins, and barring a spectacular start to the year, Morales will most likely spend the year with the Jays. The chance Kendrys returns next year when his contract is over is almost zero percent, which could open the door for Tellez as the DH in 2020.

While one could argue that Rowdy could be the DH this year, it would be tough to reason why a full time DH player like Morales (making as much as he is) is sitting on the bench and not being utilized. Considering the Jays released Troy Tulowitzki and are currently on the hook for $30+ million over the next two years, I don’t see management adding to that total by releasing Morales this season on top of that.

Now you could bring up Tellez with both Smoak and Morales on the active roster, but this would complicate an already crowded infield situation and realistically, not many teams carry three 1B/DH type players on the big league roster.

One thing Rowdy Tellez can do this season is try to force the Toronto Blue Jays hand for a promotion. With the team heading towards a rebuild, it would be tough to keep a guy like Smoak around and he could be traded for prospects midseason to a contending team.

It really depends on how the Blue Jays value Smoak, and whether they would prefer to see him over Tellez as the starting first baseman moving forward (barring any trades or free agent signings). It would also go a long way if Smoak can repeat his 2017 All- Star form so that if they do choose to trade him, they get the most value as possible.

Another simple thing Tellez can work toward to earn a promotion is to go down to Buffalo and play extremely well. This would mean that he has to keep hitting for both average and power, keeping the strikeouts below 22%  (like he did in September, which is close to the league average), and working on his defence at 1B. If he starts this season strong in AAA, he may force the Blue Jays management to make a decision on who plays 1B or DH in 2020 and beyond.

In the end, I believe a lot of Tellez’s future with the team revolves around if they keep Smoak for the long term. Tellez could easily slide into the permanent DH role, but he will most likely have to wait until 2020 when Morales is no longer with the club. If Smoak does in fact get traded this seaosn, then Tellez just has to perform well on defence to keep getting his named penciled in at first. He can always transition to the DH role if 1B does not pan out, as long as the bat is still hot.

I believe we will see Rowdy Tellez this season with the Blue Jays. He will be the first call if either Smoak or Morales see time on the injured list, and will most likely be a call up when the rosters expand in September (2020 is when the rule changes for September come into effect).

Next. Blue Jays: What To Expect From Danny Jansen In 2019. dark

Once he is called up, and if Rowdy keeps hitting like he did in 2018 this year, it will be difficult to send him back to AAA when the 2020 season begins. His future with the team will be more clear as the season ends and we see who sticks around when the final game ends in September (or October if you are a super optimistic Blue Jays fan).