Fisher Cats Win, Lugs Lose in Extras in Play Off Openers

It was win one, lose one for Blue Jays affiliates in minor league post season play last night.

The AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats and Lansing Lunguts opened their division series at home.  The Cats blanked Trenton, 8-0, while the Lugnuts fell to Bowling Green 4-3 in 10 innings.

TJ Zeuch gave New Hampshire 6 innings of shutout ball before breaking through for three runs in the bottom half of the frame.  Bo Bichette doubled in Jon Berti with what proved to be the game-winning run.  Zeuch turned things over to New Hampshire’s shutdown bullpen, who tossed three scoreless innings to preserve the shutout.

New Hampshire added 5 runs in the home half of the 8th.  Manager John Schneider, whose team led the Eastern League in steals, was at it again, ordering a double steal.  EL batting champ Harold Ramirez led off with a walk.  Cavan Biggio, the league leader in walks followed with a free pass of his own.  Schneider ordered the successful double, which helped to open the floodgates. Against a drawn in infield, Max Pentecost hit a grounder to 2nd which forced the Trenton 2nd Baseman to his left, and he had only one play at first as Ramirez scampered home.  Biggio scored when next batter Josh Palacios recorded his first AA RBI on a single up the middle.  New Hampshire scored three more runs that inning.

In Lansing, RHP Maximo Castillo matched Bowling Green P Tobias Myers almost pitch for pitch, his only blemish a leadoff HR in the 2nd.  The game had a rain delay in the 4th, but it wasn’t prolonged.  Lansing C Andres Sotillo tied the game with a solo opposite Homer in the 5th.

Bowling Green, winner of 90 games in the regular season, took the lead again in the 7th when 1B Jim Haley scored all the way on a Sac Fly to Lansing CF Reggie Pruitt.  They added an insurance run in the 8th when Lansing 3B Jesus Navarro stumbled in fielding a Groundball to his left, allowing the runner on 3rd to score.  Lansing knotted things up again in the bottom half of the inning.  With two runners on, LF Norberto Obeso worked the count full, fouled off a couple of pitches on the outer half of the plate, then lined a triple off the RF wall.

Neither team could score in the 9th, so the game headed to extras – thankfully, without the benefit of the runner on 2nd that the regular season extra innings rule had dictated.

The skies opened up once again, and the wet conditions may have been a factor when Lansing closer Matt Shannon threw the ball down the RF line after taking a one hopper off of his ankle, allowing batter Taylor Wells to reach 2nd.   After giving up a walk, Shannon allowed a single that looked to be headed up the middle.  Lansing SS Vinny Capra moved over to field the ball, but 2B Samad Taylor cut in front of him, but rushed a weak throw off his back foot to 1st, failing to get the batter, and allowing another run – which proved to be the game winner – to score from 2nd.

Both teams piled onto busses for the 8 hour drive to Bowling Green, where the Lugs face elimination in the best-of-three series tonight.  New Hampshire is home for game two of their best-of-five affair, before the series switches to Trenton.

 

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A Look at Demi Orimoloye

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milb.com photo

The Blue Jays got younger, more athletic, and considerably more Canadian when they acquired OF Demi Orimoloye from the Brewers last night for veteran Curtis Granderson.

Oluwademilade Oluwadamilola Orimoloye was born in Nigeria, but moved to Canada as a toddler.  He attended St Matthew Catholic College in Ottawa, and joined the Canadian National Junior team at 15.

Baseball America‘s pre-draft report on Orimoloye:

 Orimoloye has shown explosive tools for several years, having been exposed to high levels of competition as a member of the Canadian Junior National Team and the Ontario Blue Jays. While scouts already knew who he was entering the summer showcase circuit, Orimoloye really took off at East Coast Pro and the Area Code Games, where he showed advanced feel for the barrel and power in game situations. With a chiseled, 6-foot-4 frame, Orimoloye has long levers and room to add even more strength, allowing scouts to dream on his upside. He’s a plus runner with a plus arm and plus raw power, with some questions about how much he will hit. Orimoloye’s swing has taken significant steps in the right direction, and he’s shown the ability to recognize pitches and drive the ball from gap to gap. Defensively, Orimoloye’s routes and reads will be an early focus for him at the next level. He has the speed for center field right now, but could be moved to right field as he fills out. If his bat comes along as many scouts expect it to, Orimoloye could develop into a legitimate five-tool player.

Other than a high K/BB ratio, Orimoloye fared well in the AZL after the Brewers took him in the 4th round in the 2015 draft.  Brought along slowly, he didn’t reach full season ball in the Midwest League until last year, and struggled to make consistent contact, fanning 139 times in 500 PAs, but showed glimpses of his potential with 38 stolen bases.  Pitch recognition and learning to harness his speed effectively on both sides of the ball were still works in progress at that point, and he dropped from being ranked Milwaukee’s 13th prospect by BA after his pro debut to falling outside of the Top 30 only two years later.

Sent back to the MWL to start 2018, Orimoloye showed enough to be named to the league’s mid-season All Star game, and earned a promotion to High A Carolina.  As one might expect, he’s been challenged more at that level, and sported a line of .237/.304/.372 over 65 games.

As they are with most Canadian players, the Blue Jays are quite familiar with Orimoloye.  Canadian Jay Lapp, who joined the Blue Jays scouting department last fall, signed Orimoloye while working for the Brewers.

In Orimoloye, the Blue Jays are getting a premium athlete who can play all three OF positions.  They’re also getting a player who’s incredibly raw, and may have trouble reaching his projections.  At 21, there is still time and a learning curve ahead of him.  He would slot in below established top OF Prospects like Anthony Alford, and mid-range prospects like Chavez Young.  Perhaps a new organization and a modified approach will help Orimoloye tap into his power.

Bluefield’s Kirk Bashes His Way to Appy All Star Nod

Kirk
BTD Online photo

Bluefield’s Alejandro Kirk has had a smashing pro debut this season.

Signed in the fall of 2016, he was limited to two ABs in the GCL last season, but the C/DH has made up for lost time this season.  The Tijuana native has been the most consistent threat in Bluefield’s lineup, and was named to the league’s end-of-season All Star team as a DH, joining teammates OF Cal Stevenson and Reliever Sean Racoski.

At 5’9″/220,  Kirk has the build of a Catcher, but doesn’t profile as one long term.  He’s been adequate as a receiver for Bluefield, even catching Eric Pardinho’s near-perfect 7 inning outing.  He’s split time between Catcher and DH, and probably will move to 1B in the future.

Using a wide base, closed stance, and a toe tap, the righthanded-hitting Kirk gets an excellent view of the strike zone, and seldom chases.  He gets good plate coverage, and has strong pitch judgement, as evidenced by a 13% walk rate (vs an 8% K rate).  You’ll find him near the top of most Appy League offensive categories with his .354/.443/.558 line, and is tied for the lead in RBI.  John Eshelman (@2080_John on Twitter) of 2080baseball.com has had looks at Kirk this summer:

 

The challenge as he moves up the system will be finding a place for Kirk on the field.  But that will play, most likely next year in Lansing.

Who Will the Blue Jays Call Up on September 1st?

MLB Rosters expand on September 1st from 25 to 40 players, a tradition that goes back at least a century – Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig was a September call up in both 1923 and 1924, before sticking for good the following season.

Minor League regular schedules end on Labour Day, and with AAA Buffalo out of the running for a post season spot, it’s reasonable to expect at least a half-dozen Bisons players will cross the Rainbow Bridge and head to Toronto shortly.

RHP Sean Reid-Foley had a decent MLB debut earlier this month, but was hit hard in his second start before being sent back to the minors.  SRF has fanned 150 batters over 129 innings this season between two levels, but he may be running out of gas after being roughed up in his return to AAA.

1B Rowdy Tellez seemed to be on the verge of earning a big league job after mashing 23 Homers in AA as a 21 year-old in 2016.  Justin Smoak’s resurgence, and issues with his mother’s health dropped him off the prospect radar, but a post All Star break line of .320/.371/.536 has probably earned him a look-see in September.

OF Anthony Alford’s last two seasons show that the jump from the minors to the majors is huge, and takes some players several trips back and forth to AAA before they establish themselves.  Alford, quite frankly, has had a disappointing season.  A strained hamstring coming out of spring training landed him on the DL, and while he appeared to be breaking through in June, Alford’s season has fallen short of expectations.  Just the same, he has to be part of the Blue Jays plans going forward, and even though the Toronto outfield is crowded at the moment, it’s reasonable to expect another shot for Alford in September.

OF Dwight Smith Jr has acquitted himself well in his brief MLB tours, and even though his playing time might be limited and his AAA numbers were not overwhelming, he’s earned another shot as well.

OF Dalton Pompey is out of options next year, and after a difficult season, perhaps out of chances as a Blue Jay as well.  2014 was a coming out year for the Mississauga native, when he started at High A and finished in Toronto.  Since then, he’s averaged 65 games per season, as injuries have taken their toll.  Before they let him go, however, the Blue Jays need to see what they have in Pompey, and this September may offer him one last chance.

C Reese McGuire was more than Danny Jansen’s back up in Buffalo.  With Jansen DHing on occasion to keep his bat in the lineup, and his promotion to Toronto, McGuire has appeared in almost 100 games.  Added to the 40-man last fall, McGuire might be ready for an MLB audition this month.

SS Richie Ureña has been lost in the prospect shuffle this year.  Injuries and time on the QEW Shuttle have limited him to 67 games and some disappointing numbers this year.  He gives the team some added flexibility when he is on the roster, however, so we may see Ureña in Toronto once more next month.

None of these players are apt to see significant playing time in September, but in one way or another, they’ve all merited a chance to spend a month on an MLB roster as the team looks toward 2019.   Fans will be clamoring for the promotion of top prospects Vlad Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, but the latter pair will be headed to the minor league post season, and all three area lock to go to the finishing school that is the Arizona Fall League in October.  Since none of the trio is on the 40-man roster at the moment, they won’t be eligible for promotion next month, anyway.

 

Blue Jays System Readies for Post-Season

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Post-season baseball for major league organizations is something of a blessing and a curse.  Prospects get to play some pressure-packed baseball down the stretch and into the playoffs, hopefully learning to win together on their way up.  On the other hand, particularly at the lower levels, players are tired after a long season (for many, their first as a pro), and the risk of injury increases.

The Blue Jays sent a number of their front office personnel to Vancouver last year to watch the C’s bring home their fourth Northwest League title as a Blue Jays affiliate.  This year, they have some decisions to make as far as travel plans are concerned.

Low A Lansing clinched a post-season berth by virtue of finishing with the second-best record in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division in the season’s first half.  They open a best of three series with Tampa affiliate Bowling Green on September 5th.

AA New Hampshire clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last Saturday night, with Max Pentecost hitting a three run bomb to seal the deal.   The Trenton Yankees trail the Fisher Cats by a game in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division, so home field for the best of five affair has yet to be decided.

Rookie Bluefield earned a spot in the Appy League playoffs last week, and will play Tampa’s Princeton farm club.  The Blue Jays will host game one of the best of three division series with the Rays on Friday.

Vancouver has yet to lock up a spot in the NWL post season, but leads Spokane by a game heading into the season’s final weekend.   Vancouver plays the next three at home, then finish the regular season in Spokane.

The DSL Jays, despite a decent 41-31 record, and the GCL Blue Jays were eliminated from short season play, as has AAA Buffalo.  High A Dunedin is just a game away from elimination from the Florida State League playoffs.

 

Who Will the Blue Jays Send to the Arizona Fall League?o

As the minor league season approaches its conclusion, we turn our thoughts to the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school of sorts for an organization’s top prospects.

In the past, the Blue Jays have used the AFL experience to give their top prospects a taste of competition against elite talent, or to give them added reps missed due to injury.

Toronto will send six prospects to play for the Surprise Saguaros, who will be managed by former Blue Jays minor league Manager Stubby Clapp, who’s now in the Cardinals organization.  New Hampshire Position Coach Andy Fermin will join Clapp’s staff.

The Blue Jays will be sending six players – they’re allowed to send any AAA or AA player, as well as one from High A.  Projecting the first three players is fairly easy:

1.  Vlad Jr

While fans are clamoring for Guerrero’s promotion to the big club when MLB rosters expand on September 1st, the Blue Jays are still building him up to play a full season (and holding off on his service time), so a shutdown for September followed by a trip to the desert is the most likely scenario.

2.  Bo Bichette

Bichette has had his ups and downs this year as his pitch recognition skills have been put to the test, but his .839 post All Star OPS suggests he’s come through his first taste of adversity as a pro.  Word travelled quickly around the Eastern League that he’d chase, and he struggled until he stopped expanding his strike zone.

Bichette would likely get an opportunity to split time between SS and 2B, adding to his versatility.

3.  Cavan Biggio

Biggio’s prodigious power (26 HRs, .532 SLG) has been one of the bigger surprises in the organization.  Toss in 90 BBs and 128 Ks, and you have a three true outcomes triple crown threat.

Some Toronto media members have been suggesting Biggio could be in the Blue Jays lineup as early as next year, but the team still likely would to see if that power surge is for real, and what his ultimate position might be.  Biggio has played mostly 2B, but has also seen time at 1B and 3B, and the club experimented with him in RF this week.

Facing tough competition in the AFL will give us a good barometer of the legitimacy of his power.

It starts to get a bit unpredictable at this point.  Some possible candidates for the other three spots include:

Nate Pearson

After spending April in shut down mode with an oblique issue, Pearson’s 2018 came to a screeching halt when he took a line drive off of his pitching arm in his first start of the season.  Reports suggested an August return, but he’s yet to pitch in a game since the injury.

It’s possible we see him in short stints in the AFL, but the likelihood of that depends on how his arm has healed.  And getting that kind of information out of the Blue Jays is a herculean task.

Travis Bergen

Injuries limited the 2015 7th rounder to 28 innings over his first three pro seasons.  He was a mainstay in Vancouver’s bullpen last year, helping to lead the C’s to a league title, and has taken over the Closer’s role in New Hampshire.  With Bergen eligible for the Rule 5 draft if he’s not placed on the 40-man roster by November, the team likely would like to see how he fares against top prospects.

Zach Jackson

The righty reliever with the funky delivery has fanned 66 in 56 innings for New Hampshire, but has walked 43.  Some added reps might be in order.

Patrick Murphy 

Like Bergen, Murphy has a lengthy injury history, but he’s bumped up his velo, hitting 100 this year, and sitting 96-98 deep into games.  Murphy has also blown past his previous high in Innings Pitched, so there’s every chance he’s shut down come September, given the Blue Jays usual caution with their young arms.  With the Rule 5 a possibility for Murphy, there’s a good chance he’s added to the 40 this fall.

Jon Harris

The 2015 1st rounder had a disappointing season in his first AA campaign last year, but has added velo and some deception to his delivery in his second crack at the level in 2018.  With the Rule 5 looming for Harris, the Blue Jays might give him time in Arizona after a decent second half with New Hampshire.

Jordan Romano

Romano came out like a house on fire at AA, winning his first 8 decisions and getting the starting nod at the Eastern League All Star game.  He hasn’t missed as many bats in the second half as he did in the first, and with scouts wondering if he wasn’t better suited to a bullpen role, the Blue Jays might want to begin that transition this fall if that’s what they have in mind.

Angel Perdomo

The tall lefty with the electric fastball has been a starter since joining the organization in 2012, but the team moved him into the bullpen this year in Dunedin.

Rosters are usually released in late August.  Play in the AFL begins in early October, and wraps up in late November.

Welcome to Minor League Baseball….

The Dunedin Blue Jays get no love.

And their fans (all 161 of them in attendance last night) get even less.  The club-owned team is a place for prospects to play in the Blue Jays system, and not much else.  When Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro was asked last fall where the D-Jays would play when renos to antiquated Dunedin Stadium take place as part of an $80 million-plus spring training retrofit, Shapiro acknowledged, “you know we’re not exactly displacing a huge fan base there.”

Minor league baseball, more than anything, is a business.  For the owners of the affiliates, it’s a way to sell a cost-friendly fan experience.  For their MLB partners, winning is nice, but it’s not a priority, especially at the lower levels.  In the case of the Blue Jays, when a prospect has met the objectives set for the player, Director of Player Personnel Gil Kim shows up with his notebook, and in the words of one affiliate official, “he’s not leaving empty handed,” usually taking the team’s best player with him.

With their team chasing a playoff spot, the baker’s dozen dozen of D-Jays fans who showed up to their game last night against Jupiter were treated to the site of recently promoted Chad Spanberger in Right Field.  In three years of college and over 160 games of pro playing time, Spanberger has never played the Outfield.  With Kacy Clemens on the roster, something had to give, and Spanberger traded in his first baseman’s mitt for an OF glove.

And the results were predictable.

Dunedin reliever Jackson McClelland came in to the game in the 9th, and tossed a 1-2-3 inning.  With the game tied at 3, the D-Jays failed to score in the home half of the 9th, so the game was headed to extras,

With the new extra innings rule in place, Jupiter began the top of the 10th with a runner on 2nd.  After McClelland had issued a walk, a soft fly ball was lofted to RF.  Whether Spanberger was unable to track it in the lights is unknown, but an easily catchable flyball landed a few feet in front of him, and what proved to be the winning run came home.

In the long run, the game meant little to the organization.  Putting Spanberger in RF was chance to keep Spanberger in the lineup, while SS Logan Warmoth, to whom the team paid a sizeable bonus after drafting him in the 1st round last year, was given a night off from defensive duties and was at DH.  Don’t question if it was fair to the fans, D-Jays players (including McClelland and the other Dunedin Pitchers on the night), or even Spanberger himself.

Again, it’s a business.

What to Expect from Sean Reid-Foley

RHP Sean Reid-Foley is a study in prospect development.

Thought to be a late first round pick in 2014, the Florida High Schooler fell to the 2nd round due to a college committment.  The Blue Jays scooped him up with the 49th pick, and while he hit full season ball in just his second year as a pro, they have brought him along gradually, challenging him to improve his fastball command and secondaries at each level.  He changed his delivery at Instructs in the fall of 2015 in order to streamline his delivery – the knock from scouts is that he tended to lose his mechanics during games, and lacked the ability early in his career to make adjustments.  At every level, the Blue Jays have allowed Reid-Foley to find his own comfort level, and have not rushed him.

In naming him the Blue Jays 11th prospect after a disappointing 2017 season, Baseball America‘s evaluation is remarkably prophetic:

After Reid-Foley took a step forward in 2016, he struggled in 2017 in the Double-A Eastern League, where he struggled with fastball command, inconsistent stuff and gave up too much hard contact. Despite his struggles, Reid-Foley still flashes average to plus stuff across the board. Reid-Foley’s fastball parks at 91-94 mph with good movement and reaches 97. His best secondary pitch depends on the day. Usually either his curveball or slider are working for him. When they’re right, they’re average pitches, though they sometimes disappeared on him and contributed to his struggles. His changeup flashed average at times too. Reid-Foley must improve his fastball command, which is complicated because of his mechanics and arm action. That leads several scouts to think his future is in the bullpen, though the Blue Jays plan to keep Reid-Foley as a starter. Reid-Foley has the repertoire to project as a back-end starter, though his stuff could tick up in short stints if he’s moved to a relief role, with a chance to get to Toronto by the end of 2018.

With SRF, you will get a fastball that now sits in the mid 90s, a pitch that he often elevates with two strikes.  The trick for Reid-Foley is getting ahead of hitters, where his slider or that upstairs four seamer can become more effective.  But that’s been an issue throughout his minor league career – when he’s on, he misses bats and piles up the Ks.  When he’s not, his pitch count goes up in a hurry.  This year, the former has been the case far more often than the latter – Reid-Foley has fanned 146 batters in 126 innings at two levels, and has limited hitters to a .205 average.  His 13.3% Swinging Strike rate is good enough for 3rd in the International League for Pitchers who’ve thrown more than 80 innings.  He has the lowest pull rate (37.3%) for that same threshold.  The inconsistencies of last year have become a thing of the past.

Reid-Foley will likely be pitching tonight to his Buffalo battery mate Danny Jansen, which should be a tremendous bonus – Jansen knows Reid-Foley’s pitches, and could be a great comfort factor for him. Without a great deal of fanfare, the rebuild is on in Toronto, and SRF, Jansen, and Ryan Borucki should be regulars in the Blue Jays lineup for the remainder of the season, to be joined by several more of their Buffalo teammates when MLB rosters expand in September.

 

What to Expect From Danny Jansen

During the Alex Anthopolous regime, then-Amateur Scouting Director Blake Parker was given free rein (and, for a while, one of the largest scouting departments in the game) to look for players in non-traditional baseball markets.  That approach landed them Anthony Alford in 2012, and a year later, an injured Wisconsin Catcher named Danny Jansen in the 16th round.

It’s been a long and winding road for Jansen (who lost significant parts of three minor league season due to injuries), but sources indicate that one of the top prospect systems will be promoted to the Blue Jays today, taking the place of Yangervis Solarte on the 25-man after Solarte was injured yesterday.

Here’s what to expect from Jansen:

1.  Grit and Resilience

This is a guy, after all, that the Blue Jays drafted even though he’d missed much of the short Wisconsin baseball season his senior year of high school due to a broken wrist (which he tried to play with in the state championship game).

The workload Catchers toil under is enormous, but Jansen has both the frame (6″2″/225) and the stamina to handle the rigours of a full season.  He’ll play through injury, and work hard on rehab if/when he’s out of the lineup.

2.  A nice, low target

Despite his size, Jansen is flexible enough to present a target at the bottom of the strike zone, a plus for handling sinker ball Pitchers.  His lateral movement to block wayward pitches has always been a work in progress, but he’s shown steady improvement each season.

3.  A good framer of pitches

This was a skill Jansen had as early as Low A.  Jansen is an expert at setting up at different parts of the strike zone to expand the corners.  Like Russell Martin, once one of the premier framers in the game, Jansen doesn’t move his whole arm to coax pitches back into the strike zone – he’s adept at turning his wrist slightly to frame.

4.  A leader

This was evident from his time in short season ball.  Jansen is skilled at working with pitchers and calling their games – you rarely see Pitchers shake him off.  He is a steady influence behind the plate.

5.  A decent bat

Jansen has been hard pressed to repeat his breakout (.323/.400/.484) at three levels performance from last year, but he’s not a guaranteed bottom of the order bat, either.

Jansen rarely chases, and sees a lot of pitches each AB.  He doesn’t strike out a lot, and isn’t afraid to draw a walk – he’s getting on base at a .390 clip this year.  A Catcher’s defensive contributions are far and away the most important aspect of his game, but Jansen should provide some upgraded production for the Blue Jays offence.

 

Raised well by solid Midwestern parents, Jansen is not flashy.  A veteran of six minor league seasons, his patience and work ethic are about to pay off.  Catcher of the Future for the Blue Jays has been a curse this century, but with Jansen and the crop of backstops behind him in the minors, the team appears set there for the next decade.

Time to Take Another Look at Tellez

Lost in the hype of the Blue Jays farm system being named one of the top ones in the game this summer has been the play of Buffalo 1B Rowdy Tellez over the past two months.

Seemingly headed for Toronto after bashing 23 HRs as a 21-year-old in AA two seasons ago, Tellez appeared headed for DFA status after a disappointing start to 2018, following and equally below expectations 2017 campaign.

Hot on the heels of a .309/.338/.574 July, Tellez had a pair of hits in Buffalo’s loss last night, raising his average to .455 over his past ten.  In the process, Tellez has raised his average to .278, to go along with a becoming-respectable .786 OPS.

Off-field problems, including his mother’s battle with cancer, had much to do with Tellez’ struggles last year.  After keeping things inside for much of last year, he’s been more open with his teammates and coaches.

On the baseball side, Tellez is not chasing as many pitches out of the strike zone as he did last year.  After showing remarkable patience in the Eastern League, Tellez saw fewer pitches in the heart of the strike zone in AAA last year, and expanded his strike zone as a result.  Frequently finding himself in pitcher’s counts, Tellez wasn’t cranking out the Quality ABs that he was in AA.  Last year, Tellez seemed to frequently take hacks at pitches that left a viewer wondering why he offered at that pitch; his strike zone judgement seems significantly improved of late.

Does this mean that Tellez is poised to be promoted to the big leagues when MLB rosters expand on September 1st?  He’s not a lock with Justin Smoak ensconced at 1B, but with the Blue Jays looking toward the future, perhaps he could take away ABs from DH Kendrys Morales.  Tellez is a bat-first player, and while his numbers of late are promising, his power numbers are still lacking for a player of his type.  Still, if a rebuild is coming, with Tellez running out of options next year and the team far from contention, it wouldn’t hurt to kick the tires on this former top prospect next month.