DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Rowdy Tellez narrowed things down this offseason, starting with his body. The Blue Jays’ first baseman lost one pound, trimming from 255 to 254.
It’s a lesson in how deceiving weight can be as a singular measurement of a player’s fitness. Tellez estimates that he dropped 15 pounds of fat and added 14 pounds of muscle, creating a visible change in his core and upper body.
This is where Tellez wants to be. Prior to the 2017 season, he dropped down to 230 pounds and was never able to get comfortable. That year, playing with Triple-A Buffalo, Tellez hit just six home runs with a .628 OPS over 122 games. The 24-year-old is still battling to establish himself and earn a role with the Blue Jays this spring, but he’s feeling much more comfortable with his foundation.
“I view myself as one of the stronger players in baseball,” Tellez said. “I don’t have to go get pitches. I can miss pitches and hit them out. I’m being compact with my swing and understanding my strength, and not trying to hit the ball a country mile every swing.”
Tellez’s workload and diet didn’t change much, but his training became more specific.
“As I get older, it wasn’t so broad,” Tellez said. “It was way more condensed into a few things that I wanted to work on to better myself. One of those was to build strength within my core and hips. I got stronger in there, which forced me to lean out.”
The lesson that Tellez is learning -- to let his body provide the power instead of chasing it -- is the same lesson that former Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak learned later in his career. Coming up as one of the game’s top power-hitting prospects, Smoak felt a need to fit the classic definition of a slugger. Instead of playing his natural game and hitting 25-30 home runs, Smoak chased 40 or 50. It wasn’t until he learned to play within himself that Smoak thrived in Toronto.
Tellez’s strength has never been in question. His average exit velocity last season ranked in the 80th percentile of the league, according to Statcast, and the majority of his home runs were no-doubters. It’s the at-bats between the home runs, though, that will define his long-term role.
In an effort to improve this, Tellez has altered his “hand pump.” Instead of quickly pumping his hands downward as he loads and then continuing with his swing, Tellez now pumps his hands back in the direction of the catcher, which allows him to keep his hands on the plane of his swing. Tellez also feels that his strengthened core and hips make his swing more compact, which should allow him to catch up to more fastballs.
Some advice from Dante Bichette -- Bo’s father, who hit 274 career home runs -- has also helped Tellez this offseason. You’d expect two hulking power hitters to focus solely on the bashing of baseballs, but they focused entirely on mentality.
“Working with Dante has slowed me down [mentally],” Tellez said.
Tellez’s role depends not just on his own performance, which is off to a strong start in Grapefruit League play, but the complicated puzzle of depth players that will make up the 26-man roster. For now, he’s at least left an impression on his manager.
“His approach so far has been outstanding, and that’s one of the things he needed to change,” Charlie Montoyo said. “He’s in great shape and he had a great offseason. It’s paying off right now.”