Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tellez Emerges as Blue Jays Top Hitting Prospect

Kevin Pataky/milb.com photo
   Ryan John (Rowdy) Tellez has become the best Blue Jays top hitting prospect, and likely the best one they've developed since Aaron Hill. In his fourth pro season, he has grown into one of the most advanced hitters in the minor leagues, all at the tender age of 21.

   Some eyebrows were raised when Tellez was assigned to AA New Hampshire to start this season after only half a year at High A Dunedin, but Tellez' maturity and approach at the plate convinced the organization to start him there.  His 2015 season ended in August with a broken hamate bone, but his performance against top competition in the Arizona Fall League left little doubt that he was ready for an aggressive promotion.

   Tellez got off to a slow start (as did many of his teammates), showing patience, and as the New Hampshire bats awoke and Tellez started to see more strikes, his numbers have grown steadily since, as evidenced by his growing slash line:

April: .164/.345/.361
May:  .288/.364/.490
June:  .320/.427/.493
July:   .472/.525/.806

   Here's Baseball Prospectus' report on Tellez from last year:

Tellez has taken significant steps forward both in terms of his physical development and his baseball skills, turning himself into a potential everyday first baseman at the big league level. He uses his size well, and while it limits him defensively and on the bases to a profile that is completely reliant on his bat, it also gives that potential to provide enough value to get away with that profile. 
Because of his size, he doesn't have to sell out for power, allowing his hit tool to play up. He shows strong bat control for a player of his size, and while there will always be some swing and miss because of the natural length in his swing, he maneuvers the barrel well within the strike zone and shows a propensity for using the whole field. He has plus raw power, and the progress of his hit tool will give that power a chance to reach its ceiling in the big leagues. Even if it falls just short, it should be enough to warrant regular playing time.

  And Baseball America's view:
 Tellez combines feel for hitting and power potential in a burly body that he'll have to continually monitor, as he's prone to get big. He works at it, though, and club officials like that Tellez derives motivation from the criticism and plays with an edge. He has a feel for the barrel and using the whole field, with natural strength to drive the ball to the opposite field and not just pull power. He's aggressive but not to a fault, starting to trust his hands and hang in better against lefthanders.
   Tellez has worked tremendously to improve his agility and footwork around 1st base, but he will always be a bat-first player.  He was clocked a 4.76 to 1st (4.2 for a LHH is considered average), and that time will only tick upwards as he ages.  BA has called his defence fringy, and that, coupled with his lack of speed, often seems to keep him off of most Top 100 prospect lists.  But there are other aspects of his game that help to compensate.  Tellez is not a one-dimensional slugger - not only is he in the top 5 in the Eastern League in slugging and on base percentage, he's also third in the league in walks.  Despite his above-average bat speed, Tellez is not pull-happy, using the whole field:

   For a guy with an Milb.tv subscription, there have been ample opportunities to watch Tellez play this year, and his AB's make for must-see viewing.  He has a plan at the plate, and there is always the threat of him taking the ball out of the park.  Even with the uneven quality of the milb.tv feeds, there is a distinct sound when he makes contact that you hear with few other players, and the ball often appears to jump off of his bat.  Even though slow starts appear to be something of a trademark (he started under-the-lights play with Bluefield two years ago with an 0-33 streak), Tellez' patience and ability to use the whole field makes him less prone to streakiness as a hitter.  Because of his size and long swing, there sometimes is a swing-and-miss element to his game, but he doesn't strike out as much (18.9%) as a power hitter of his stature would - Tellez puts the ball in play, and his swing generates considerable backspin.

   There is a temptation to elevate Tellez to AAA Buffalo, and many fans have asked when it will happen, and while he's showing a growing mastery of Eastern League pitching (despite being one of the loop's youngest players, and - let's not forget this - being in only his second year of full season ball), but the organization is clearly in no rush.  Tellez does not have to be placed on the 40-man roster until after next season, and the playing time might not be there for him in Buffalo: Jesus Montero, Matt Dominguez, and even Casey Kotchman need the PT to stay sharp in case of an injury to someone on the 25-man.  The leap from A-ball to AA is considered to be one of the largest in the minors, while the gap between AA and AAA is not as great, so for the time being, leaving Tellez right where he is, where he can continue to work on all aspects of his game, is the best move.  With New Hampshire currently sitting 14 games out of a playoff spot with 51 games left to play, Tellez might see some time with the Bisons (who are 2 games out of a wild card spot) in August to help with their playoff push.  Again, at this stage of his career, Tellez needs to play more than anything else, so the organization will have to balance that with giving him pennant-pursuing experience.

   He may not remind anyone of Keith Hernandez at 1st Base, but Tellez has a bat that will play, and while the Blue Jays lineup may look very different a year or more from now when he's ready, it's easy to project him somewhere in the middle of that order, launching drives in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.  I've followed him since his rookie year in 2013, and watched his transformation into a more complete player than he was when the Blue Jays drafted him.  He will always have to watch his weight, but Tellez has worked incredibly hard to transform his body, and develop more of an all-around game.  

  Even though there's a community-access cable tv channel quality to these videos, they offer an excellent look at Tellez' smooth, easy swing and bat speed:


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