TORONTO — Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Rangers, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was asked what he hopes to see from returning first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who got the call after 26 games in Triple-A.
His answer was right to the point.
“A guy a hitting bombs,” Montoyo said with a chuckle.
The rookie manager was more serious, and somewhat blunt, when he expanded on his hopes for Tellez.
“I want to see something better than what he was doing,” he said. “His OPS getting better, getting better at-bats, a better approach at the plate. Working hard on his defence.”
That covers pretty much everything, but it’s not totally unfair. In 78 games with the big club this season Tellez managed a -0.3 Wins Above Replacement total thanks to a .227/.280/.436 line that simply wasn’t good enough for a first baseman. He hit for power, but virtually ever other aspect of his game demonstrated what Ross Atkins might call “development opportunities.”
No part of Tellez’s game requires tweaking more urgently than his plate discipline. Since the beginning of 2018, 393 hitters have stepped to the plate more than 300 times - the 24-year-old’s BB/K ratio of 0.18 is 373rd.
“What happens in the big leagues is they find your hole and they keep going at it. He couldn't make an adjustment,” Montoyo offered as an explanation. “It seems like everyone was throwing high fastballs or sliders in on him and he was missing them.”
Tellez is well aware where he needs to improve as well. He believes that his trip to Buffalo - where he hit an outstanding .366/.450/.688 helped him improve his approach.
“I’m looking for certain pitches in certain situations and trying to minimize the strikeouts as much as I can,” he said. “Get into hitter's counts where I force the pitcher to come to me instead of chasing and getting myself in trouble.”
That’s the big-picture goal, but it’s come alongside a more micro adjustment. On Tellez’s first day in Buffalo he broke down his swing “from the very bottom to the very top” with Bisons hitting coach Corey Hart.
That lead to the pair determining that he was hunching over the plate too much this season, especially when compared to the end of 2018 when he exploded onto the scene with the Blue Jays. The result was Tellez fouling off more pitches instead of being able to stay with the ball.
“I felt like I went back to normal. I was kind of searching the last month ago,” Tellez said. “I got down there and realized 'this is where I need to be.'”
Whether this adjustment will meaningfully change Tellez’s trajectory is anyone’s guess. Hitters make tweaks all the time, and the most common outcome is the status quo ruling the day in the end. Although the 24-year-old’s recent Triple-A numbers are encouraging, they could easily represent a hot streak rather than an epiphany.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile for the Blue Jays to do whatever they can to find out whether Tellez has found something - which is precisely what they intend to do.
“Rowdy's probably going to play more than Smoak, if I have to guess right now,” Montoyo said. “I want to see Rowdy. I want to see what kind of adjustment he made.”
With Smoak’s contract expiring after the 2019 season, the first base position is looking for an heir to the throne. Tellez is a logical option and there’s no other obvious in-house alternatives, barring a Vladdy position change. That said, Tellez needs to improve substantially to earn that title in earnest. He’ll have that chance down the stretch and there’s no downside for the Blue Jays in giving it to him.
As good as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are, if the Blue Jays hope to compete in the years to come their lineup cards will need seven more names written on them. There’s no time like the present to see if Tellez is going to be one of them.
More Blue Jays coverage from Yahoo Sports Canada