First base isn’t generally considered a premium prospect position. This concept is largely based on the number of outfielders and third basemen that are able to convert to first at the major league level for numerous reasons.
While many players have the ability to learn the demands of first at any level of play, there’s still a need to develop quality players at the position throughout the minor league system and every once in a while a player makes the jump to play there regularly in the big leagues.
Looking to do just that, Toronto Blue Jays prospect Rowdy Tellez is doing everything possible to not become complacent throughout his first full season. Regarded as the organization’s top prospect at his position, Tellez has done nothing but impress since April.
Beginning his season in a familiar place, Tellez joined the low-A Lansing Lugnuts, the team he finished his regular season with last year.
“I was expecting to start my year in Lansing,” said Tellez. “I was happy by the news. It’s great to get out of spring training and get to compete in a full season schedule.”
Turning heads throughout the first half of the Lugnuts’ season, the young prospect was a key piece of the club’s first place finish and clinching of a playoff berth. Carrying an impressive .296/.351/.444 slash line, which included 19 doubles and seven home runs in 270 Midwest League at-bats it was obvious Tellez was close to a promotion.
Receiving word that he was going to spend his second half of the season in the Florida State League with the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays during the Midwest League’s All-Star Break was the news Lugnuts fans were expecting, as Tellez proved himself already in Lansing.
But before leaving for Florida, Tellez still took part in the all-star game where he was named starting first baseman. Going 0-for-5 on the night wasn’t the way Tellez would’ve liked his all-star experience to go, but he did score a run on the night and gained some valuable experience at just 20 years old.
While the talent may have jumped in high-A, Tellez has continued to stay steady in the Florida State League. Carrying a .275/.338/.473 slash line against quite arguably the best pitching he has ever seen is a promising sign for the prospect.
Another telling sign is the fact Tellez has also hit seven home runs in just 131 at-bats in the Florida State League. While fans expect 30 or more home runs from this position at the major league level, it’s still very promising that Tellez was able to hit 14 home runs at two levels that he was younger than the majority of his competition.
Everybody knew Tellez could hit when he started his professional career. The biggest question mark was his defensive play. While his defense could use a little work, it’s still an area in which he does a respectable job every night.
Committing just seven errors on the season, Tellez has taken part in 51 double plays, while assisting on another 43 plays between the two levels.
The improvement in his defensive play is largely in part to repetition. Seeing more balls hit in his direction in professional baseball has really helped the young prospect understand his role better as he admits that fielding ground balls used to be a challenge for him.
“My defense has been great this season,” stated Tellez. “When I first signed I had trouble with ground balls. I would have to hustle a lot to get them. But this year I’m practicing that skill a lot more. This is a skill I need to know to get to the big leagues. Every major league team needs a good first baseman that the infielders can trust throwing to and the pitchers can trust in pickoff situations. It’s a necessity for sure.”
It’s not just the repetition that’s helping the prospect, but the great coaching he has received from Blue Jays’ Roving Infield Instructor Mike Mordecai who has only one focus on mind for Rowdy Tellez, that being to mold him into a major league talent by improving his footwork drills.
“I feel my footwork drills are great,” Tellez added. “Infield coach Mike Mordecai has helped me a lot in my career to become a more complete well rounded first baseman.”
Obviously being his first full season fans would expect Tellez to have big expectations for himself every night, but that’s not the case, as he admits it’s more about the team.
“In my first full season I basically just want to be the best player I can be and the best teammate I can be both on-and-off the field,” explained Tellez. “Other than that I just want to have fun every day and play hard.”
Impressed with what he saw from the prospect from April until June, Lansing Lugnuts hitting coach Kenny Graham has nothing but respect for the way Tellez was able to handle a leadership role at such a young age.
“Rowdy did a great job in our lineup when he was here,” stated Graham. “Rowdy was hitting in the middle of the order. He’s a young guy going through his first full season so he’ll have some bumps along the road. But he has some tools and a good mental makeup so he’ll be able to handle that role all season and for years to come.”
Blue Jays fans certainly hope so.