Blue Jays From Away
First base prospect (and fan favourite) Rowdy Tellez was optioned to the minor-league camp in Dunedin on Sunday. He had appeared in 18 spring training games with the big club this year, going 8-for-30 to earn a .267 average. He also drove in two runs and scored seven. With four walks and two doubles, his OBP was .371, and he slugged .333.
Tellez also struck out eleven times, made some fine defensive plays, and stole a base. After he worked with Hall of Famer and minor league instructor Tim Raines in the offseason, Raines voiced his confidence in the 21-year-old’s baserunning skills, saying he believes Tellez to be the best baserunner in the minor-league system.
Manager John Gibbons said Tellez would start the season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Tellez spent 2016 with Double-A New Hampshire, where he slashed .297/.387/.530 with 23 home runs and 81 RBI.
Monsalve also optioned
Along with Tellez, catching prospect Alex Monsalve was reassigned to the minor-league camp on Sunday. He had one hit in eight at-bats over twelve games, as well as an RBI and two strikeouts. Monsalve was a minor-league signing for the Blue Jays in December after he spent the 2016 season bouncing between three different teams in the Cleveland farm system.
Jays’ options at first base
As it stands, Justin Smoak will be the Blue Jays’ starting first baseman. A switch-hitter, Smoak hit .217/.314/.391 with fourteen homers with the Jays in 2016, but didn’t play every day, eventually losing time at first to Edwin Encarnacion on a pretty regular basis. (To read about Smoak’s season in full, click here). Thus far, Smoak has a .121 average in spring training – four hits in 33 AB. He has one double to his name, as well as three RBI, five walks and 12 strikeouts.
The Blue Jays signed free agent Steve Pearce in the offseason, touting him as a utility defender and potential backup to Smoak at first. Pearce is a right-handed hitter, who has favourable splits against left-handed pitchers – a .270 average against lefties and .244 against righties over his career. Last season that divide was even more pronounced, as he hit .317 vs LHP and .275 against RHP.
Smoak, for his career, breaks even between the two – .223 against lefties and .224 against righties – and actually fared better against right-handers in 2016, as he hit .221 against them compared to .209 against lefties. If that trend continues, the Blue Jays could use Pearce as a platoon option at first base when they’re facing a left-handed starter.
Pearce played 40 games at first base last year, both with Baltimore and Tampa Bay (where he began the season before being traded). He’s played numerous positions throughout his career, but first is where he’s logged the most innings. He has only made one appearance at the position in spring training, but is hitting .333 in 21 at-bats in eight games so far.
Kendrys Morales, another free-agent signing, might also be a potential backup at first. Morales has only spent 16 games at the position over the last two years, both with Kansas City. He spent the majority of his time as a designated hitter, and is expected to do the same this season. Morales is hitting .407 so far in 11 Spring Training games, with 11 hits in 27 AB, two home runs (including one in his first plate appearance) and five RBI.
However, John Gibbons has made comments in the past indicating that Morales might be an option at first base – when playing in a National League park in interleague play, for example. In the event of an injury to one the starters, or a slumping bat from Smoak or Pearce, it’s possible Tellez could make his major-league debut sometime later this season.