When we talk about Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez, the focus tends to land on his bat.
That makes sense. He’s big, he’s strong and he hits the ball a country mile, but the 25-year-old is entering 2021 with a stronger foundation in his mental game. Tellez’s offseason featured weight benches and squat racks, of course, but it also featured books and constructive time spent alone.
“On the weekends, I would spend some time just on the boat, or I spent a lot of time in Texas just decompressing, really being one with myself again," Tellez said. "I was just having fun, enjoying it, but mentally it was a big jump for me with how I handled the day-to-day successes and failures of not getting too high when I have those mountains and not getting too low when I have those valleys.”
Without the hunting trips and family trips that typically take up some of Tellez’s free time in the offseason, he found himself sitting out in the sunroom of his home in Florida more often. His new dog was often by his side -- which he called his “little amigo” -- and it gave him time to think and absorb new ideas.
"I learned a lot,” Tellez said. “I learned composure methods, controlling the uncontrollable, which is kind of odd, but making sure you can just really focus on only things you can control, because after that it's out of your hands. As a young player, you get a little more frustrated, you put a little more pressure on yourself than you need to and that’s something I wanted to get away from.”
Tellez’s confidence in his own game is only exceeded by his confidence in what this Blue Jays team can accomplish in 2021. He sees a lineup capable of hitting 30 home runs from one through nine, and he might have a point. The Blue Jays are projected to rank among baseball’s best, and they’ll need Tellez to be a part of that.
Last season, Tellez hit .283 with an .886 OPS and eight home runs over 35 games before a right knee injury cut his season short. Tellez improved his body entering 2020 and sharpened up his plate approach, so while 35 games is a small sample to draw from, it’s easier to believe improvements when you can put a couple of concrete reasons behind them.
Coming off the club’s return to the postseason in 2020, Tellez’s expectations are sky-high for 2021.
“World Series trophy, man,” Tellez said. “I honestly can sit here and say that's a realistic expectation. We have the bats, we have the pitching and we have the big one, which is camaraderie in the clubhouse.”
Making sense of the outfield
As Grapefruit League play begins, keep an eye on how the outfield reps are divided among the Blue Jays’ four “starters” in George Springer, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk, particularly later in camp as Opening Day approaches.
Springer will be out there every day and Hernández is coming off a breakout season, so there’s not an easy answer here, especially when it comes to Grichuk.
“Because I have the DH spot open, that’s what’s going to help me move guys around so that everybody gets to play almost every day,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Also, since we’ve got that many guys, people are going to get rest. It’s not going to be that grind of playing so many games in a row.”
The simple answer is that this will work itself out, of course, with an injury or streaky play from someone involved. The Blue Jays have a good problem here, but it should still be one of the main storylines of Spring Training. Jonathan Davis will see some playing time behind those four because of his speed and defense, so he is likely next in line should there be a need. Joshua Palacios is the sixth outfielder on the 40-man roster and, while he’s likely limited to the corner spots, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get some action down the road.
• Live BP sessions started Wednesday in camp. Montoyo saw ace left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu throwing to hitters and offered the same review we’ve heard from some teammates.
“He was Ryu,” Montoyo said. “Working his pitches and painting the corners.”
• Montoyo was impressed with Robbie Ray, who was up to 95 and 96 mph. He highlighted Ray’s control, which he’s working on entering 2021.
• Elvis Luciano looked good to Montoyo and has been focusing on sharpening up his slider. Luciano will be stretched out as a starter in the Minor Leagues this season and should be on your short list of pitching prospects to follow.