Blue Jays spring takeaways: Raines’ base-running lessons pay off for Tellez

President Mark Shapiro can’t hide his excitement for a few prospects in the Blue Jays’ system, specifically Rowdy Tellez and Anthony Alford.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Rowdy Tellez continues establishing himself as a promising first base prospect with a powerful left-handed swing that generated 23 home runs in 2016. Listed at six-foot-four and 220 pounds, he looks the part of a traditional power bat.

But he hopes to become a complete player for the Toronto Blue Jays, not just another one of the empty-power corner bats who languished on the open market all off-season long. Defence and base-running are priorities along with hitting.

In Monday’s 2-1 spring training loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 21-year-old took a step in that direction with some surprisingly purposeful base-running. He stole second base after entering the game as a pinch runner then proceeded to take some aggressive leads toward third.

"I’ve always been told I was slow," Tellez said. "Obviously I’m not a fast runner, but to be the complete player you have to do everything. You have to steal bases, you have to play defence, you have to run the bases smart."

"It’s a lot of work, but take advantage of what you have."

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Tellez has had some help in recent weeks from none other than 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Tim Raines, who’s in Blue Jays camp as an outfield and base-running instructor. When manager John Gibbons asked Raines about Tellez’s progress, the man who ranks fifth all-time in stolen bases offered an encouraging base-running report.

"(Raines) said he might be the best in the system," Gibbons said. "He’s not a fast, fast guy, but that tells you something about him. He’s a complete player."

Tellez stole four bases in seven attempts at double-A last year and has been successful in 13 of 20 attempts during his four-year professional career.

"He’s not going to steal a lot of bases, but he’ll surprise you at times," Gibbons said.

Beyond stolen bases, Tellez says Raines has helped him get better reads that will allow him to advance an extra base on occasion.

"We’ve talked a lot about how to steal bases, what pitchers tip, what to look for and then balls off the bat: how to read outfielders, how to read flight, how to read sound," Tellez said. "He’s helped me with a lot of stuff on the bases and it’s been a great experience."

Here are five more takeaways from the Blue Jays’ fourth spring loss…

TELLEZ GOES THE OTHER WAY

At the plate Tellez walked and doubled, hitting a 97-mph fastball to the opposite field against right-hander Clay Holmes.

"When I get pitchers like that—tall, with natural movement—I just try to do my best to stay on (the ball) and drive it the other way," Tellez said.

The combination of base-running and offence surely impressed the many Blue Jays front office members and coaches in attendance Monday, but he says he’s not worrying about how close he is to being MLB ready.

"It’s not my call," Tellez said. "I’m just going to do the best I can, be the best player and teammate I can be so when that time comes they have no second guess about what they want to do with me."

STROMAN DEBUT GOES WELL

Marcus Stroman pitched well in his spring debut, retiring all six batters he faced with three strikeouts. The right-hander touched 94 mph on the radar gun while mixing in a wide array of off-speed pitches and varying his delivery to keep hitters off-balance.

"He looked good," Gibbons said. "For the first time out, I thought he was pretty sharp for the most part. He’ll be ready to go."

Both Stroman and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said they were pleased with how their first outing together unfolded.

PILLAR’S PATIENCE

Kevin Pillar was another offensive standout for the Blue Jays, with a walk and a double into the left-centre field gap. The centre fielder has been batting leadoff for the Blue Jays, largely a way to ensure he gets as many at-bats as possible before giving way to a defensive replacement.

HOUSEKEEPING

T.J. House, a candidate to provide pitching depth at triple-A Buffalo, logged two quick and painless innings for the Blue Jays while striking out two Pirates. House struggled at the triple-A level last year, but he did post a 3.35 ERA in 102 innings as a starter for Cleveland in 2014. That may be the last spring start he gets, though, as the Blue Jays are expected to mix in the rest of their regular rotation soon.

DAY OFF FOR URENA

Shortstop prospect Richard Urena got a day off Monday after making two errors and taking a ball of off his left leg Sunday. He’s physically fine, though, and the Blue Jays don’t sound concerned about Sunday’s miscues.

"That's the first tough game I've ever seen him have," Gibbons said.