This isn’t the same Rowdy Tellez that paraded through regional parks with a voracious appetite for the long ball and a craving for all things tasty at the drive through.
This Tellez is a toned-up, slimmed-down version – a stronger, more mature model.
The former Bee Player of the Year out of Elk Grove High School had his most productive outing in the minor leagues Wednesday, clubbing three doubles and a two-run homer that hit the scoreboard beyond the right-field fence to power the Class A Lansing Lugnuts in Michigan past South Bend 6-4 in Indiana. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound first baseman has shed pounds and gained experience as the Toronto Blue Jays’ top-rated left-handed hitting prospect.
“I’m a different guy, smarter about the game, and I’m the lightest I’ve been since high school, and it’s all been great,” Tellez said by phone Thursday afternoon, adding that there’s more to home run power than brawn. He reminds that there’s the swing, mechanics, timing.
Tellez said offseason hunting – birds or big game – has helped him practice the art of relaxation. With his prey in view, Tellez the hunter worked on lowering his heart rate before squeezing the trigger – similar to stepping up to the plate.
“It’s the same in baseball and hunting ... you’ve got to be relaxed,” Tellez said. “Looking through the scope of your rifle, you can’t have a heartbeat out of the ordinary, or be nervous. Take a deep breath. Calm, confident, just like standing at the plate.”
Tellez set his sights on a high-round selection in the 2013 amateur draft after a prep career that included home runs that slammed against a doghouse at Laguna Creek, or the one that sailed over the right-field berm in the rain at Raley Field. But he slipped to the 30th round, not for lack of ability but signability concerns, with a scholarship to USC serving as a nice backup plan. Tellez wound up with a lower-round record $850,000 signing bonus, then batted .234 with 20 RBIs in 34 games with the Blue Jays’ Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate. He batted .305 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 65 games with rookie-level Bluefield in West Virginia, and Lansing last season.
Tellez had one Grapefruit League at-bat with the Blue Jays duringspring training and hit a homer against the Phillies that reached the club offices beyond the right-center field wall at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
“What I like about Rowdy the most is he’s got a lot of naturalness as a hitter, a lot of rhythm and timing,” Blue Jays assistant general manger Tony LaCava told reporters during spring training. “Rowdy’s a bit of a throwback in terms of his swing and the way he goes about it. He’s got a chance to hit and hit for power.”
Entering the weekend, Tellez was batting .290 in 33 games with five homers and 23 RBIs in the cleanup spot for Lansing. Tellez homers with flair and he strikes out similarly; he has struck out 34 times in 131 at-bats.
“A power hitter in general is going to have some swing and miss to him,” LaCava said. “The fact that Tellez does have a bigger swing, that’s going to be a part of his game. Obviously, as he continues to progress, he’ll learn. I don’t want him to concede too much with two strikes, because he does have a chance to do damage. If it becomes a big issue, we can always take a look at that, but right now it’s not a priority.”
Tellez has matured as a man and a hitter, but there’s still a lot of kid to him.
“I’m always going to be the goofy one who keeps the game relaxed and runs around the clubhouse like the little brother,” Tellez said. “In games, I play mature, knowing situations, understanding my role, how I need to play and approach the game. ... It’s just so cool. I’m very happy. I’m really happy with my decision to turn pro. I’m living my dream.”
Tellez said a personal thrill was having his parents – Greg and Lori Tellez – attend an early-season Lugnuts game, nevermind the frosty conditions. The parents could barely see their son through the fog of their own breath.
“It was cold as hell, 21 degrees and snowing,” Tellez recalled with a laugh. “It was awful. I think the next time they’ll come out will be Fourth of July. It’ll be warm then.”
Tellez expects to continue his hot start with his eye on his ultimate destination: the big leagues.
“I’m where I want to be right now, but I’m not content,” Tellez said. “I want to get to the big leagues. We all do. For now, I’ll keep grinding, keep working, keep learning, keep getting better and just roll with the punches.”