By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
Heading into the 2017 season, Rowdy Tellez was one of the Toronto Blue Jays' top prospects, but after he struggled for most of the year, he is looking for a rebound season in 2018.
The left-handed hitting first baseman was pegged as the 59th best player entering the 2013 MLB Draft but many thought he was going to be hard to sign due to his college commitment to USC. That was not the case and Tellez signed with the Blue Jays after being taken in the 30th round (895th overall).
“I honestly wanted to sign all along and really [had] not many intentions to go to school," said Tellez. "I don’t get why that was a big thing because half the high school kids who are in the draft are all committed to college. I don’t understand why everyone thought I was going to college but I guess they did. I wanted to play pro ball all along, that was my dream since I was a kid. It is everybody’s dream who plays baseball.”
Tellez worked his way through the minor leagues and had batted .297 with 23 home runs for the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2016 before finding himself in spring training with the big club in 2017. Entering the spring, Tellez was about as hyped as any prospect in the system and manager John Gibbons said he was the closest prospect to the big leagues. The spring was an important one for Tellez.
“It was a big spring training, but spring training is spring training,” added Tellez. “Everyone is getting ready for the season and I went in doing the same thing. I had my goals to accomplish while I was there and one of the main ones was to learn as much as I could from the older players who were around like Smoaky (Justin Smoak), (Josh) Donaldson and Tulo (Troy Tulowitzki) and learn as much as could about the game of baseball. Offensively, defensively, everything I could learn and put it in my repertoire, that is what I was there for."
After Tellez impressed in spring training, many had high expectations for him but he struggled in 2017 and did not get the call-up many thought was destined. Tellez had a tough time at the plate from the get-go as he hit .222 with a .295 on-base percentage and only six home runs, down from the 23 the year prior.
“Just one of those years," said Tellez of why he thinks he struggled at the plate. “I couldn’t really get anything going, struggled with timing, it was just a tough year for me. I learned a lot from it, I took a lot from it, positive or (negative). Anything that I struggled with, I tried to make it a point in the off-season to make myself better and understand why I struggled.”
So Tellez had his work cut out for him as he entered the off-season.
“I went back to the basics and figured out where it came from and that was really it," said Tellez. "Just really broke it down to where it came from and started from the bottom and built my pyramid up again back to where I am.”
But Tellez also received some positive news from the Jays in the off-season. He was told he was being added to the club's 40-man roster, which is one step closer to the majors.
“I don’t even remember where I was at but it was pretty exciting," added Tellez of what it was like when he received the news. “It is one step closer to being in the big leagues and that's just it, it’s one step closer to being in the big leagues. It is a cool new title to have but ultimately the goal is to get to the big leagues and help the team win so the goal is to get to the 25-man roster.”
With his new status on the 40-man, Tellez has improved this season. Through 46 games with the triple-A Bisons, he is hitting .250 with a .337 on-base percentage with three home runs. However, even with the limited home runs, Tellez is still producing for the Bisons and that is what is he wanted to happen this season.
Tellez attributes some of his improvement in 2018 to listening to suggestions from his coaches and fellow players. Many thought he should focus on his hitting, but he has spent a lot of work on his fielding.
“This has been my third year with Meach (Bobby Meacham, Buffalo Bisons manager) so defensively we have worked for three years together and we do stuff every day on the field with hands, and footwork and everything that I can do to make myself the best defender I can be,” said Tellez. “I have also learned a lot from Smoaky (Justin Smoak) working with him, and our infielder coordinator Danny Solano. It is just not over the past few years, it’s been since day one of 2013 when I signed. Defence has been harped on and I have come a long way to be the defender I am.”
While Tellez is improving defensively, he also realized that he had a lot of work to do on his offensive approach after 2017.
“Offensively it is the same people it has always been”, said Tellez, when asked who has been helping him.. “The guys who I hit with at home who know my swing best. I have Corey Hart here who is a phenomenal hitting coach who is working with me a lot and understanding my swing and getting back to basics in timing, rhythm, so the people here have helped me tremendously.”
With all the help Tellez is receiving, he is becoming a better player. However, he is still in triple-A and has yet to achieve his goal of reaching the majors, but he hopes that will come soon. For now, Tellez knows he has to keep playing well and keep improving to have a successful career.