Will the Blue Jays look to give the everyday 1B job to Tellez, or will they make him earn it over others on the roster?
The Toronto Blue Jays have put in some serious work to improve their team for the 2020 season. On paper, they look to be much better. One of the players they brought in is Travis Shaw, who has the ability to play first base. In fact, they have a number of guys who can man the position. For that reason, and the past performance of Rowdy Tellez being what it is, one has to wonder how much Tellez will have to do to earn the everyday job.
Looking at the roster, the Blue Jays have several players who could play first base in 2020. Some of them are not everyday answers, while some of them could be and others could become answers.
We saw Brandon Drury collect over 100 innings at first in 2019. While there, he put up -1 DRS with a UZR/150 of 18.4, so the glove is acceptable. However, after slashing .218/.262/.380, there aren’t too many people calling for him to continue at first, certainly not on an everyday basis. Given his flexibility, one could see how he would be a ‘here and there’ kind of option, but he is no threat to Tellez’ playing time.
Travis Shaw has a career total of 825 big league innings at first to go along with over 3000 innings in his minor league career. He’s no stranger to the position. In fact, when Toronto first signed him, many thought he would be the everyday first baseman and the back up to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third. However, with his well documented struggles at the plate last season, and some corrections needed to his launch angle exaggeration, he cannot be considered a lock to take the starting job. He’ll need to make adjustments and show that he can maintain it with success.
Cavan Biggio also saw time at first in 2019. The experiment was only about 30 innings long, so it didn’t provide a whole lot of information that would tell us if he could be the starting first baseman. In fact, that the club put him there at all speaks more to their attempts at turning him into some kind of super-utility player. If there has been talk about him playing in the outfield, this is the only conclusion to be drawn.
Vlad Jr will eventually make the move across the diamond and become the everyday first baseman in Toronto for (hopefully) many many years. However, that move will not come this year and certainly won’t come at the beginning of the season. A whole lot would have to go wrong on the defensive side of things for the young stud to force the Blue Jays to move him.
So, realistically speaking, the real threat to playing time for Rowdy Tellez is Travis Shaw. The question before us now is how hard the Blue Jays will make Tellez work to earn his spot. Given the extreme value in positional flexibility, one has to think that relegating Shaw to an everyday job in one position (assuming his bat returns to his norm, which is not a guarantee) would not be ideal. So, that would indicate that Tellez has a clear path to first. But, can it be that simple?
The first thing people will point to in defense of Tellez is his power. He hit 21 HR and 19 doubles in 409 plate appearances. Over a whole season, that sounds like a reasonable amount, but you should also consider that everyone and their dog hit 20 home runs last season. The struggling Drury hit 15.
The issue with Tellez is more about consistency. Sticking with his power for a second, you will notice that on a list of At Bats Per Home Run, Tellez doesn’t even crack the Top 100. Even Randal Grichuk, who people love to say doesn’t produce enough offense for their liking was 57th on the list with 18.9 AB/HR. For reference, Mike Trout was first with 10.4 AB/HR and Tim Anderson was 100th at 27.7 AB/HR. In order for the power to mean much, he has to be able to produce more consistently.
It is interesting to note that Tellez’ splits indicate that he performs better in less ‘stressful situations’. For example, when he has the count in his favour, he hits better, which is true of most hitters, but at 3-0, he hit .429 last year. At 2-0, he hit .341. He has a higher average with the bases empty. As well, in 2019, he hit in every spot in the lineup, except 2nd and his average increased the lower he was penciled in. He also hit better in “Low Leverage” situations than in “Medium” or “High”. Maybe this means that he could start games and then be lifted later in the games. Maybe.
We know that Rowdy Tellez is not going to win any batting titles any time soon. Nor is he going to be carrying the Blue Jays into the playoffs. As I wrote previously, he is Mr Right Now. In the context of the 2020 season, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him be the starting first baseman. However, there are other options available to the club if he cannot demonstrate consistency. He won’t just be handed the job; he’ll have to earn it. Whether he can, and what that would need to look like remains to be seen.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.