DUNEDIN – From the moment he was drafted, Rowdy Tellez gained minor celebrity status among fans in Canada because of his peculiar yet endearing name. That fame drifted off into the background over the past few seasons as Tellez has been developing in the low minors, occasionally resurfacing with a #LetsGetRowdy on Twitter during a particular stretch of dominance from the 22-year-old first baseman. However, after a big 2016 in AA-New Hampshire which saw him post a gaudy triple slash line of .297/.387/.530 at age 20 and then the World Baseball Classic taking key roster players away from the Blue Jays for a few weeks, Tellez was given an extended stay in Dunedin. With this, the hills came alive with the sound of Rowdy fans.
Being in Dunedin with the big league club from the start of camp until March 19th allowed the young first baseman to take advantage of his situation. After a minor league game this past Tuesday against the Phillies AAA squad at the Bobby Mattick Training Center, I spoke to him about his experience. He said it was “crucial” for him in his development, thanks to being able “to learn from a lot of great guys.”
Who were those “great guys”? The first player he mentioned was none other than Justin Smoak, the man who people were hoping would lose his job to Tellez after a hot start to the spring slate. Smoak helped with his defense, which scouts have had questions about for Tellez’s entire career. He has worked extremely hard on improving that area of his game since coming into the Blue Jays organization though, because to him being a DH is a rarity reserved for the likes of David Ortiz.
“If you’re just a power hitting first baseman, you’re going to be a DH… Everybody can knock me for my defense all they want, but I’m here now, and [was] one of the top defenders in the minor leagues last year.”
What Tellez was referring to in that comment was his .992 fielding percentage from 2016, where he made a grand total of 7 errors in his 870 1/3 innings played in the field. “When you don’t make many errors, I guess you’re a bad fielder”, he quipped before adding that scouts could keep on saying he is “incapable”.
His help from veterans wasn’t just limited to the defensive side of the ball, however. Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki all provided tips on how to master the side of his game that has gotten him to where he is now. The chat with Tulowitzki garnered national attention when Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro went on the radio with Jeff Blair and said that Tellez had taken six pages of notes at a dinner between the two. The dinner story spread quickly on the internet, with the idea of the publicly quiet Tulowitzki being taken out to dinner by a 22-year-old prospect instantly becoming a meme. However, Tellez says we got it a bit wrong.
“Somebody wrote that I took him out to dinner, but I asked [him] to go out to dinner because I wanted to learn. Obviously he wasn’t going to let me pay.”
And unfortunately, the mental picture so many have drawn of Tellez sitting at a table across from Tulowitzki with a note pad and pen hastily scrambling thoughts down in between bites is not exactly what occurred on the night of March 7th at Casa Tina. In fact, the notes were taken at home, later that evening.
“I went back home and took notes and wrote down everything that I could remember so I could keep it all. You can’t remember everything. So, [I] wrote it all down, and ended up having six pages of notes on my phone.”
This wasn’t an isolated incident either. Shapiro told a story where Major League veteran Sean Casey was in camp and talking to Tellez, and Casey thought he was texting instead of listening to what he was saying. It turned out that Tellez was typing notes on his phone. When asked about this habit of taking notes, Tellez said that he “wants to learn as much” as he can when given the opportunity.
“These guys were successful in the big leagues and as much as I want to learn, and how much I ask questions and pick their brain, I won’t be able to remember it all from everybody. So, I write things down. I keep a little book. Even as a hitter I keep books on pitchers. I like to write things down.”
That diligence is what gives Tellez an edge, and makes him more likely to succeed going forward. In Toronto, we aren’t strangers to prospects who get complacent because they believe in their talent, only to fizzle out at the top level because they don’t have what it takes. Tellez is different. Scouts complained about his defense, so he trained as hard as he could until the tune of the scouts changed. There were those who said his bat wasn’t strong enough, so he worked and worked until his offense was 52 park adjusted points better than the league average in AA-New Hampshire.
All of that is reason enough to believe that although he is starting the season in AAA-Buffalo, Tellez will find his way to Toronto soon enough. When he finally gets there, Tellez is fully ready and excited for what it means to play for the Blue Jays: “You’re playing for a whole country, and nobody can say that in professional baseball, except for the Toronto Blue Jays”, he said in the closing parts of the interview.
Until he gets to Toronto, Rowdy has a couple of things on his mind:
“[I’m] focused on winning, and taking my men to war.”
A little intense? Sure. Endearing in that way that you know he’s going to be a fan favourite? One hundred percent. #LetsGetRowdy.
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