Looking for a Lefty: how Rowdy Tellez could fix Jays' off-season
Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair was on the Fan the other night discussing the Jays off-season moves. Among his grievances were the team’s botched negotiations with Encarnacion and over-paying Morales, but his main complaint was that management has yet to address the need to get younger, more left-handed and more defensively versatile. This off season the Jays have signed a 33 year old, switch-hitting DH and a 33 year old platoon first baseman that bats right. Seems safe to say that so far, this off-season has been a bust.
Now that most of the big names are off the free agent board (especially ones that fit any of those three criteria), Jays’ fans are left wondering – is this it? The team is not younger, leftier or better defensively, and they’ve lost 88 homeruns in Bautista, Edwin and Saunders. So it might be time we start really looking inside for some answers - inside the farm that is.
What if I told you there is a 21-year old lefty with a Big Papi-like build, with power potential and solid contact numbers? Now that might be over-hyping the Blue Jays #9 prospect, Rowdy Tellez a bit, but even so, there are more than enough reasons to be excited about this kid.
Reason number one - look at his 2016 AA numbers. In 514 plate appearances Tellez had 23 homeruns, 81 RBIs, a .297 average and a .387 OBP. Tellez offers not only power from the left side but as his numbers suggest, strong plate discipline.
Obviously all minor league numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. One clear example is Dalton Pompey. He looked ready to explode in 2015 based on his minor league stats, but clearly he wasn’t ready. On the opposite end, some suggested that Francisco Lindor would come crashing down to earth in 2016 because of his minor league numbers. So we can never truly predict how players will react to the Big Leagues.
Blue Jays’ beat reporter, Gregor Chisholm, believes that Tellez is the most likely Jays’ prospect to break out in 2017. Chisholm suggests that the Smoak/Pearce platoon might not work out. If Pearce is injured (as he often is) or Smoak is inconsistent at the plate (as he always is) Tellez might get an early shot. He believes Tellez will start in Buffalo but may get a call up sooner rather than later in 2017.
Over the last two seasons the Blue Jays have received unexpected production from minor league sources. With Osuna, Travis and Pillar in 2015, and Sanchez and Biagini last year, the team will again need help from the farm. Tellez may just be that 2017 piece.
Second reason to like this kid - he’s got moxie. Tellez has let it be known that he is planning to win the first baseman job out of spring training. Danny Gallagher reported that Tellez said, “I’m ready to go into Spring Training and open some eyes. I’m confident.” He also reported that Tellez has already left for pre-Spring Training training in Dunedin.
Actions speak louder than words, but obviously Tellez thinks there’s a shot at an MLB job and is ready to work for it. I seem to remember that last spring another 20-something who spent all winter working out, and spent all spring trying to convince management to give him a shot. And although it took Shatkins (Shapiro/Atkins) far too long to see the full potential of Aaron Sanchez, he did force their hand with hard work and raw skills. Tellez has a clear role model.
Tellez’s path is anything but clear. In a perfect world he would have another season in the minors and be ready for 2018, but this off-season has been anything but perfect. Would management be willing to use him in a platoon with Pearce, limiting his ABs? If he won the job straight up would the team shift Pearce to the outfield?
There appears to be about $25 million left on the budget table and not a lot of logical places to spend it. A reunion with Jose Bautista would certainly help to fill the offensive void left by Eddy, but as a 36 year old, right-hander with rapidly deteriorating defense, resigning him would seem to go completely against the new philosophy (and would eat up the majority of that $25 million). If Tellez could help fill the power gap at a fraction of the cost of an aging, right hander, why not?
My hope for Tellez is based on both fear and faith. The fear comes from the prospect of Justin Smoak getting regular at bats as the lefty side of a Pearce/Smoak platoon. Platoons only make sense when both players are especially productive at one one-side of the plate. Smoak was indeed better against righties this season, but still only managed a .221 average, hardly acceptable numbers even in a platoon.
With Smoak, the Jays know what to expect, 10-15 homeruns with a deplorable average, but with Tellez the sky is the limit. Much like the Gavin Floyd versus Aaron Sanchez debate of last spring, the question is whether to go with the devil you know. Tellez checks off two of the three boxes and that’s my reason for faith. A big, lefty, with tons of team control, that is the devil you don’t know. If the Jays are going to be competitive in 2017 there is still much work to be done. If all goes well in spring, why not roll the dice on Tellez.