TORONTO — It’s not hard to imagine what the Toronto Blue Jays see in Rowdy Tellez.
It’s power, pure and simple. When he barrels one up the ball travels a long way, as it did on Wednesday when he smashed a home run for the second consecutive night in the club’s 8-0 dismantling of the Boston Red Sox.
That power has been on prominent display in September. As the 24-year-old fights and claws for his piece of the Blue Jays’ future, he’s already socked four home runs in nine games this month.
“I think I’m just swinging at quality pitches and putting good swings on the ball,” Tellez said after the game. “Playing a little bit mentally and being more confident in the box.”
The stretch to come will have something to say about whether the Blue Jays consider first base a black hole in 2020 or a spot where they might have an in-house solution.
"I want him to be that guy, my first baseman next year,” manager Charlie Montoyo said before the game. “Big-time power, OPS of .800 or .900, he's got the tools to do that. He's going to get a chance these next two-and-a-half weeks."
Whether Tellez does in fact have the tools to be the player Montoyo is describing is up for debate at this point. He carried a .759 career MLB OPS into Wednesday, and that number is an even smaller .720 this year. Tellez had a torrid stretch in Triple-A this season where he hit .366/.450/.688 in 26 games, but you’d expect him to do well in his third look at the level. Since he returned to the bigs on August 14 he hasn’t exactly turned on the jets, although Montoyo sees some improvements.
“He got sent down, but after he came back he's been better at everything. His work ethic, he's working harder on his defence,” he said. “He's still chasing more than we want him to chase, but he's still been better since he came back."
The second point there is far more pertinent than the first. Tellez’s potential as a defender at first base is worthy of skepticism, but ultimately doesn’t matter that much. He’s not a butcher and there’s only so much value a guy can add at the position.
Whether he can become more disciplined is central to whether he can be the guy Montoyo and the Blue Jays want him to be. Tellez has swung at close to 40 percent of the pitches he’s seen outside the strike zone this year when the league average is 28.2.
“This is just a personal opinion. I don’t think you can work on that,” he said. “It’s something where you’re going to swing or you’re not. You have less than a second to make a decision. I think with time and maturity it’ll get better, but right now I’m just trying to focus on hitting the ball when I swing.”
Even on Wednesday, he demonstrated his affinity for taking inadvisable swings on his strikeout in second inning:
The walk (6.2%) and strikeout rates (28.7%) he’s posted this year just don’t leave much room for him to be a successful hitter unless his already-prodigious power takes an improbable step up.
It’s not impossible to think that Tellez’s discipline will improve, and he’ll enjoy a production spike as a result. The idea of the burly first baseman combining his might with a command of the strike zone has to be awfully seductive for the Blue Jays. Even so, it’s hard to see much evidence for that version of Tellez emerging to date.
For the Blue Jays to transition from a promising rebuilding club to one that wins consistently, they’ll have to have some players make developmental strides no one could project or anticipate.
It’s clear they’d love for Tellez to be one of those guys. He’s going to get every chance to prove he is, for the rest of 2019 at least.
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