At this time of year, my focus is mostly on the pitching prospects in the organization. But there is a hitter in New Hampshire that is forcing everyone to take notice.
Yesterday, Rowdy Tellez started both games of a doubleheader against the Binghamton Mets. Game 1 was good enough, 2-for-3 with a double, but he was just getting started. In Game 2, he started with a home run before adding a single and double, adding a walking but missing the elusive triple for the cycle. In total, 5 of 7 with 10 total bases and a walk. Not a bad day for any hitter.
But it wasn't just a good day. He went 3-for-5 with a home run and two walks over a doubleheader the day before. And 3-of-7 with a home run and two walks over the two games before that. All told, he's pushed his season line to a robust .286/.395/.500 (150 wRC+) over 306 plate appearances with 12 home runs and 29 total extra base hits. Whcih is all the more remarkable for how his season began.
Since his batting line bottomed out a month into the year on May 9th at .143/.299/.275 (68 wRC+ despite a respectable OBP due to walking 19% of the time), Tellez has mashed Eastern League pitching to the tune of .366/.455/.627 in 189 PA, with 13 doubles, a triple, and 9 home runs. He's maintained strong plate discipline as well, with 23 walks against 30 strikeouts.
This is not the first time Tellez has struggled his first time through a league. Starting 2014 in Bluefield, he hit just .186/.277/.233 (56 wRC+) over 101 PA in his first 25 games, corresponding almost exactly with the one month mark. Similarly, he had solid plate discipline, a 9% walk rate against 12% strikeout rate, but did nothing on contact (.202 BABIP, 0.047 ISO). However, he found his mark over the last six weeks, slashing .374/.434/.558 (182 wRC+), with 6 home runs and 14 total extra base hits.
Promoted to Lansing in 2015, his adjustment wasn't quite as pronounced. But a couple weeks into the season, he was hitting just .247/.289/.364 (89 wRC+), and most significantly his plate discipline metrics were very poor at a 4% walk rate against a 23% strikeout rate. From that point until he was promoted at the end of June, Tellez hit .316/.375/.477 with 21 extra base hits. The only time he didn't struggle out of the gate was when promoted to Dunedin, where he mashed before cooling down.
Maybe this is mostly coincidence, but it does suggest that Tellez has been able to make necessary adjustments at each level as he goes through the league, including seeing pitchers multiple times. In my view, that's one of the most critical and underrated skills for a prospect, and coupled with the good performance at all levels but particularly a real test in AA is very encouraging.
At every level, Tellez has shown excellent plate discipline, as well as an ability to hit for average and decent power (it's important to remember that power tends to take some time to develop/emerge, and most of the leagues below AA that Blue Jay affiliates play in are not conducive to power).
It's conceivable that if he keeps mashing, he could force his way onto the major league roster in September, though I expect that would be highly contingent on the success of the major league team. If they're contending, there won't be much playing time anyway, and Tellez doesn't have to be protected to the 40 man this winter. Adding him could also mean blowing an option next year that they otherwise wouldn't have to.
The success of Tellez at AA could also have implications this winter. The Blue Jays have four free agents - Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, and Justin Smoak - who are either 1B/DHs already, or who should be in the near future and need to be thought of as such in planning for the future. It would be folly to assume Tellez will be slot into the major league lineup as a regular given the failure rate of even top prospects, but on the other hand it would not be prudent to block him entirely with expensive contracts to players in their decline phase. Tellez is another card in the balancing act the front office will have over the next six months.
As an amusing sidenote, with those back to back doubleheaders, New Hampshire and Binghamton have played four games over the last two days. Minor league doubleheaders being 7 innings, and none going to extras, there's been a total of 28 innings.
Over the same two days, Cleveland and Toronto have played just two games. But with the Canada Day marathon, they've managed to play the same 28 innings as what the AA teams have over twice as many. And if we get technical, those doubleheaders were split, meaning two half innings weren't played, while only one half inning was avoided in Toronto. That leaves the tally at 27.5 innings played to 27 in favour of the big leaguers.