A factor that could very well play into the offseason moves of the Toronto Blue Jays is the growth of prospect, Rowdy Tellez
[Ed Note- This post was written BEFORE Encarnacion signed with Cleveland and should be read in that context]
No one knows what goes on behind the closed doors of the offices of Toronto Blue Jays GM, Ross Atkins, and president, Mark Shapiro. And, while many readers will be looking for some news about actual conversations taking place, all we can really do is speculate these days. That might come as a disappointment to some. But, for others, it presents an opportunity to think along with our favorite team.
To that end, the recent chatter around the Blue Jays had been what to do about the possibility of bringing Edwin Encarnacion and/or Jose Bautista back. The reality of the situation is that those two left at the end of the World Series. And, the Blue Jays are staring at having two compensatory picks for their departure. That might be disappointing, but the offseason has unfolded in this way. It is what it is. What might be more interesting (and worthwhile) is looking at what might have been behind the way things unfolded.
While ultimately, it will come down to terms- money and contract years- the signing or not signing of Edwin or Jose could have been impacted (even if a little) by the presence of a slugging first baseman on the cusp of getting a taste of the big leagues. Basically, having Rowdy Tellez in his current stage of development certainly plays into the decision making processes of this winter for the Blue Jays.
In 2016, Tellez spent his season mashing in AA New Hampshire. In 124 games, he hit 54 extra base hits (an ISO of .233), including 23 HR and 81 RBI. He slashed .297/.389/.530 while walking 63 times to 92 whiffs. At age 21, he has arguably developed into the farm’s top power hitter. The power is his calling card, but he has worked on improving his defense, having committed just 7 errors in 870.1 innings.
At the end of August, he spoke with David Laurila of Fangraphs and told him of the work he’s put in at first base to improve: “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.”
He’s busting his butt to be an everyday first baseman. He’s working on his approach at the plate because he knows his power is something pitchers will try and avoid, so they’ll try and mix him up. In the Fangraphs interview, he shows maturity when talking about how to handle the ‘game within the game’ that is pitcher vs batter. He talks about trying to lull pitchers into throwing his pitch, rather than theirs. It is this total effort on his game that has him looking at some AAA time in 2017. And, depending on how well that goes, he very well could see time in Toronto, certainly by 2018.
None of this is to put the cart before the horse and say that Tellez is big league ready and the Blue Jays have been operating under the idea that he’ll be taking the first base job next year. But, he certainly does play into the conversation about how the club will move forward.
Let’s think about things for a minute. Kendrys Morales was signed and the club has likely hid all baseball gloves from him just in case he gets any ideas of playing the field. He’ll be their DH. Locking up Morales makes the 1B/DH role for Encarnacion that much more narrow. It leaves the club heavy on one side of that combo. It gives them more DH and not enough 1B, especially if you consider that Edwin won’t be playing first base for the length of any 4 or 5 year deal. Again, the Blue Jays did not press to avoid, or make a deal with EE work just because they had Tellez in the fold, but having a guy who looks to take on the job in the near future does make the decision a tad easier. They’re not looking to commit long term to 1B options.
Which bring us to the move for Steve Pearce. He was brought in as a guy who can play just about everywhere on the field, but primarily 1B. His 2 yr contract, and his positional flexibility allows room for Tellez to take the job if, and when, he’s ready. Let’s say that Tellez gets a September call up and looks to take the job in 2018, the club certainly doesn’t have to scramble to find room for him, or Pearce. If you squint, and put on the appropriate spectacles, the argument can be made that Pearce could just be holding a place for Tellez.
If the club is as high on Tellez as they should be, it is likely that his presence impacted their decisions this offseason. With the exception of making room for somewhat of a Blue Jays icon (even for whom they weren’t just going to write a blank cheque), they were not going to commit themselves to any long term options that might, in some way, block the development of Tellez. Having this kind of power prospect this close to the big leagues is definitely something that plays into a club’s decision making.
Again, this is not to say that Tellez’ presence in the organization dictated any of the team’s negotiations this offseason. They didn’t move on from Jose or Edwin because they have Tellez. They didn’t commit to Morales or Pearce because they have Tellez. Just how much the Tellez Factor had on the team’s thinking may never be known. But, we know that Atkins is not just thinking about the 2017 season when he is moving and shaking this winter. He’s thinking about how to win now and in the future. If that is the case, Rowdy Tellez definitely plays into the thought process.
*Featured Image Credit: Buck Davidson UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0– cropped from original
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