Two years ago, I wrote that the Blue Jays may have hit it big when they took Rowdy Tellez in the 30th round of the 2013 draft. So far, that suggestion looks solid. The 21-year-old first-base prospect logged an .801 OPS in A-ball last season, and this year he’s slashing .296/.384/.516 with Double-A New Hampshire.
Power is his calling card. Tellez has 50 extra-base hits as a Fisher Cat, and 20 of them have left the yard. When he really gets into one, they cross property lines. In our 2014 interview, Tellez told me he once hit a ball “over the fence, then a back yard, then a house, then over a cul de sac, and then into the next house across the street.”
He sees himself as more than a slugger. His minor-league numbers back that up, as does a left-handed stroke modeled after a pair of All-Stars’.
Tellez talked about his game — and the draft-snub chip that remains on his shoulder — prior to a recent game in Portland, Maine.
Tellez on what has changed since two years ago: “A lot is different. I’m two years older and hopefully a little wiser. Defensively, I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I was then. I’m a much more competent fielder. Everybody is confident in throwing the ball over to me and pitchers don’t worry about ground balls hit to me. Defense is what I’ve worked on the most. I’ve worked on it day in, day out.
“I’ve lost weight. I’m 245 now. The most I’ve been is probably about 275. That was around the time I signed out of high school.
“Overall, I think every year is going to be better. You’re going to learn more as you get older. You’re going to meet new people who give you better insight on what you can see, as well as what you can’t see. This game is all about learning and trying to get better every day.”
On power and his two-strike approach: “The power is always going to be there for me. But the way I see it, you have to work on being a better hitter to get to your power. I believe that the better hitter you become, the more power you’re going to have over time. You can’t hit home runs if you can’t hit the ball.
“I’ve watched a lot of guys over the years. The two I’ve really narrowed it down to watching — dissecting their swings and approaches — are Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo. I look at how easy Gonzalez swings and I’ve adopted a little bit of what Rizzo does with two strikes. He takes out his leg kick and works on driving the ball the other way. He knows he can hit home runs to all fields, even with a two-strike approach and not having the leg kick. That’s what I’m doing now. If you can eliminate strikeouts… it’s a huge game-changer.
“I’ve always had [the leg kick], although it’s more of a knee tuck. It’s not a huge leg kick, like a Hanley Ramirez or anything like that. What I’m doing [with two strikes] isn’t pronounced; you can probably hardly even see it. I’m just trying to defend the strike zone and trying to make sure I’m squaring up the pitches I’m swinging at.”
On fastballs and plate discipline: “You’ll sometimes hear guys saying ‘Man, I’m getting lot of fastballs this year.’ I’ll never get a lot of fastballs. That’s just how it’s going to be for me, because of the power perception. There are a lot of first-pitch changeups, 2-0 changeups, 3-1 changeups, hitter’s count offspeed. In any situation, I’ll see offspeed.
“Sometimes’s I’ll get two changeups away, then they throw hard in, because they think I’m leaning. The pitcher is trying to outsmart me. And there are always going to be fastballs in that you’re going to get beat on. I’m trying to minimize that, too.
“Fastballs above the zone are always going to be something… with your two-strike approach, you need to know that a lot of pitchers like to elevate. You can’t just be looking curveball, changeup, slider. It’s all about strike-zone discipline. Regardless of whether the pitch is down or up, you don’t want to chase.”
On setting up pitchers and the chip on his shoulder: “I don’t set up pitchers, but in the same sentence, I can. Maybe I have a lot of at-bats against a pitcher and understand what he’s doing. Pitchers are often creatures of habit. I can maybe take a changeup a little differently than I would if I don’t know the pitcher. I can make him feel like he has me beat, then he’ll hopefully throw the pitch I’m waiting for — the one he thinks I’m not ready for.
“Personally, I think I can go up [to the big leagues] and play. It’s all in due time, but I think I’ll be able to play there at an elite level. I view myself as an elite hitter. I’m always going to have that kind of confidence when I walk up to the plate. I am going to fail 70% of the time if I hit .300 — that’s how the game works — but at the same time, I’m going to beat the pitcher.
“I have a chip on my shoulder. Hands down. I was supposed to be taken high in the draft and I ended up being taken in the 30th round. I’ve always been labeled as, ‘You’re not a high-profile player.’ That’s why I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder. I want to prove that I can be right up there with the guys who were taken in the first round.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.