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Tellez: Underdog label 'fuels the fire'

@baseballexis
January 24, 2020

TORONTO -- Rowdy Tellez is a big proponent of homework. The man who meticulously kept notes on his opponents to maintain a competitive advantage throughout the Minor Leagues has continued to record personal tidbits during his time in the Majors, despite having a plethora of information readily available at his

TORONTO -- Rowdy Tellez is a big proponent of homework.

The man who meticulously kept notes on his opponents to maintain a competitive advantage throughout the Minor Leagues has continued to record personal tidbits during his time in the Majors, despite having a plethora of information readily available at his fingertips, because he places a sense of importance on compiling as much background information as possible.

The 24-year-old first baseman emphasizes having that personal framework because he’s spent a significant portion of his career trying to show people -- whom Tellez believes didn’t do their own homework -- that he isn’t who they thought he was.

“I wanted to prove them wrong about me being a good teammate,” he said. “I wanted to prove them wrong in that I couldn’t hit [with velocity], I wanted to prove them wrong that I wasn’t an adaptable player, and I wanted to prove that for 894 picks [in the 2013 MLB Draft] teams missed, for 29 rounds teams missed.”

Not just a courtesy

Tellez was touted as a high-round talent ahead of the Draft, but he slid down the board because teams didn’t do enough homework on him and his commitment to the University of Southern California, one he was hoping not to fulfill if he had a shot to play professionally.

When the Blue Jays snagged him on the third day and in the 30th round, Tellez wasn’t even sure the organization expected to sign him, instead intending to do a favor for the slugger’s longtime coach and mentor, Dee Brown.

“No kid has the dream of slipping to the 30th round,” Tellez said. “I was still a 30th-round pick.

“I was a courtesy pick for [Brown], who was scouting me and drafted me. He was the guy who taught me everything about baseball, so it was kind of a courtesy pick for him. That’s what I was, and I wanted to prove everybody wrong, that I wasn’t just a courtesy pick.”

After getting his first callup to the Majors in 2018 and spending the majority of ’19 at the game’s highest level, Tellez combined to hit .241/.299/.475 with 25 home runs, 28 doubles and 68 RBIs over 134 games for Toronto. But just making it isn’t enough for the native of California.

“I knew I was going to be here,” Tellez said. “There was no question about that in my mind. Now, having success and having a sustainable big league career is what’s going to prove everybody wrong.”

A chip on his shoulder

Tellez intends to continue proving people wrong in Dunedin, Fla., when the Blue Jays' Spring Training begins and he starts his fight to be on the team’s Opening Day roster. Tellez split time between first base and designated hitter last year, but he was well aware that the club went into the winter discussing a need at first base.

When Toronto signed Travis Shaw to a one-year deal with the intention of having him spend most of his time at first, Tellez became the underdog.

“People can doubt me all they want -- it just fuels the fire,” Tellez said. “The underdog thing is something that’s been my entire career. Being a 30th-round pick, spending a lot of time in Triple-A, I’ve always been labelled an underdog, so that just fuels the fire. I’m going in every year like I always do, to impress and come back out on top.”

Putting in the work

Tellez made a strong early impression at the Blue Jays’ annual WinterFest, when he brought with him more muscle mass and fewer pounds.

“Everybody expects me to fail, so I like to prove people wrong and I do it every time,” he said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I do and keep going in and putting in the work I can. I know I’ve impressed some of the people in the organization with the way I came in here, with the way I changed my body, how much stronger I got, and that’s what I like to do. I like to come in and impress people, surprise people and show them that I’m not just a throw-in player.”

He also spent his offseason making slight adjustments to his swing -- lowering his leg kick and standing more upright in the box -- and working on pitch recognition and selection to have fewer holes.

“Rowdy’s going to have a chance,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I’m a fan of Rowdy. He’s still a young kid. Some guys take a little longer, some guys do it faster. That’s above-average power that he’s got and you don’t find that everywhere, so Rowdy’s going to get a chance to make the club.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.