Toronto Blue Jays: Rowdy Tellez and the year to prove he belongs

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 14: Rowdy Tellez #44 of the Toronto Blue Jays shakes his hand after being hit by a pitch in the fourth inning during a MLB game against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on August 14, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 14: Rowdy Tellez #44 of the Toronto Blue Jays shakes his hand after being hit by a pitch in the fourth inning during a MLB game against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on August 14, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

After a successful but brief stint in late 2018, Rowdy Tellez returned to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019, where he experienced the highs and lows of a full year in Major League Baseball.

In 2018, Rowdy Tellez was called up to the Toronto Blue Jays during the September roster expansion, and he took advantage of the small window of opportunity.

No stranger to adversity with his mother’s passing to cancer just weeks before his MLB debut, Tellez would absolutely rake in his first taste in the MLB. In 23 games, he would slash .314/.329/.614 with four home runs, 14 RBI’s, and nine doubles, with his extra-base hits breaking two MLB records in the process.

It was quite the introduction to the big leagues.

In 2019, Rowdy Tellez was on the bubble to make the squad for opening day, but veterans Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak were in his way. Fortunately for Tellez, Morales would be dealt to the Oakland Athletics just before opening day, creating room for the 1st baseman on the 25-man roster.

For the rest of the season, the power-hitting first baseman/designated hitter would slash .227/.293/.449 in 111 games. He would smash 21 home runs while also gathering 54 RBI’s, 29 walks, and 19 doubles, along with 116 strikeouts.

Tellez would split time between the 1B and DH position with Justin Smoak for most of the regular season. In mid July, the Toronto Blue Jays would send Rowdy back down to the AAA Buffalo Bisons, a month long assignment on the heels of a stretch where he was sitting consistently between a .210 and .230 AVG while striking out at-least once a game (minimum).

The demotion would only prove to be a confident boost for the left-handed hitter, as Tellez would destroy the competition on the way to a ridiculous .366/.450/.688 with seven home runs and 21 RBI’s in just 26 games.

He would return to the Blue Jays on August 14th and would continue to play at a consistent level similar to before his demotion, not wavering from his eventual season-ending slash line over the next month and a half.

While 2019 did see Rowdy Tellez improve in some areas, the jury still seems to be out as to whether the power hitter will be the first baseman/designated hitter of the future Blue Jays core.

On one hand, Tellez possesses natural power in his swing that you don’t naturally see with just any regular baseball player. He has the ability to take pitches out of the zone and find a way to put them in play, sometimes even over the fence or into the gap for an extra base hit. When he was able to put the ball in play, 48% of hits would be for extra bases, a stat that really benefit the Blue Jays this season.

Rowdy also found a way to improve midseason against left-handed pitchers, with first glimpses being an awkward exchange where it appeared that he was outmatched most of the time. This led to Tellez being pitch hit for when lefties were brought into the game in the later innings.

He would improve his game against lefties as the season wore on, and by the end of September, Tellez was able to put the ball in play for a .270 AVG with 6 home runs and 23 RBI’s in 115 at-bats

On the other hand, Rowdy Tellez does strike out quite often with 28.4% of his at-bats in 2019 ending in this result. This is kind of normal for ‘power hitting’ types like Tellez, but unfortunately can be a trend that teams may be looking to avoid. With it being his official rookie season and first real taste of a full season in the MLB, he will need to improve this statistic or at least try to stay par for the course considering opposing teams will have more video to develop a plan against Tellez with the more at-bats he takes.

Tellez is also an average fielder, which isn’t the worst thing in the world considering he could be a prime candidate for the DH position moving forward. His fielding percentage is indeed solid at .996%, but it’s his abilities to save teammate throwing errors or pick balls in the dirt is something that needs to be worked on.

To be fair, the Blue Jays did have an exceptional fielding first baseman in Justin Smoak (gold glove nominated again), and fans have been a bit spoiled with tough plays being made to look routine.

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Some small improvements both in the batters box and on the field could see an increase in reps for the power hitter, but there is the potential for increased competition both internally and externally (via trade or free agency).

Other prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization are looking for playing time on the active roster, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the organization starts giving some other prospects some playing time on the right side of the diamond (coughVladdycough). There also is the potential that Smoak does return to the Blue Jays if the deal is right, re-creating the platoon that was featured through the 2019 campaign.

The 2020 season will be the callback audition in trying to find a role for Rowdy Tellez in the Toronto Blue Jays rebuild musical (off-Broadway). While fans can debate back and forth whether to put their faith in the California native, the rebuilding years will be a proving ground for prospects like Tellez, so fans will definitely be seeing Rowdy and other prospects over the next few years.

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Whether he remains with the squad after the rebuild depends on how he can progress and improve his slash line and/or his defensive ability moving forward, with the ultimate goal to be convincing the Blue Jays brass he deserves a spot on the roster.