On the first scheduled day off of the season Rowdy Tellez was cooking at his temporary home in Buffalo. The 22-year-old was busy preparing his meals for the week so he could avoid eating out and the diet pitfalls that hide on restaurant menus.
The nutritional component of being a professional athlete is another lesson, another layer of growth for Tellez. And it's one he takes seriously. The first baseman who can turn in eye-popping numbers at the plate has wanted to be in Major League baseball for, well, as long as he can remember.
And everything he can learn along the way he uses – from how to eat healthy to how to improve his defense to how to best approach hitting.
Combine skill with work ethic and at times a desperate desire for success, and out comes Tellez, ranked the fifth-best prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization by MLB.com.
Tellez made his Triple A debut with the Bisons with a bang – two home runs.
But he's struggled in April, going a combined 1 for 20 over five games (April 14-19) including a three-game hitless streak.
For Tellez, there's no panic. He's been here before. In Double-A with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats last year, he struggled in April before a hot finish turned heads. He left 2016 with a .297 batting average over 124 games.
"It's been a great learning experience so far," Tellez said earlier this week of his season start with the Bisons. "It's obviously the highest level I've played at. It's humbling. Everywhere you go there always something you're going to be faced with, some adversity, but it's about how you overcome it. I mean, everybody's kinda gonna be on the train now that I'm struggling, but I think I only have 30 at-bats. It's a long season. I've got 130-some-odd games left. Not too worried at all about the start. I feel comfortable in the box.
"Never panic. I don't want to go into that mode," Tellez said. "I mean I started the year last year hitting .140 until May. Obviously we don’t want to go down that road again. It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish, the changes you make and the way you battle adversity. Right now it's a start to the season. It's not the start everybody wants but I'm ready to turn the page today. I’m ready to go."
He's ready to go, ready to prove he's much better than he's current .174 batting average. Bisons' hitting coach Devon White isn't worried. Not just yet. Learning how to get out of hitting slumps, how to stay mentally focused when the numbers aren't there, is part of what turns good prospects into Major League mainstays.
"Right now it doesn't look like he's seeing the ball as well as he should, so he's out in front of it," White said. "We don't have any concern regarding that issue as long as we keep him mentally intact and not to get so down on himself. He's a competitor and I don't think we're going to have a problem with him coming back.
"Him being a young player, and any player of this magnitude, it plays tricks on your mind you might say. You want to know when you're going to get out of it, how you're going to get out of it. And the only way to get out of it is to continue to play and be aggressive. There's no remedy that can fix it. It's just being able, and he has the opportunity, to play every day."
At times it difficult to remember Tellez is just 22 and in his fourth full season of pro ball. His devotion to his craft began early. He started keeping notebooks when he was about 10 years old, writing down baseball lessons, filling at least one book each year. He has kept them all, going back to re-read past entries from time to time, getting tips from his younger self on how to work through struggles and reminding himself of how he has climbed the baseball ladder.
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) April 8, 2017
Tellez was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 30th round of 2013 out of Elk Grove (California) High School. Then came the work – rookie ball in Bluefield to Low-A ball with Lansing to High-A ball with Dunedin. Last year he played for Bobby Meacham in Double A with both manager and slugger earning promotions to Triple A for 2017.
With each promotion and each instance rising expectations from prospect rating sites, Tellez has kept the same approach – work hard and ask questions.
"My thing is to never be content," Tellez said. "If I'm not learning from something then I didn't have a productive day. Even hypothetically I went, perfect 4 for 4, four home runs, didn't take a bad swing, made every play, there's still something I can learn. Because you're going to face those guys again and they know exactly what you did on what pitches so that's something you need to learn."
Along with asking questions, particularly of big league pitchers as he tries to discover how the guys on the mound would get him out, and making copious notes, Tellez has crafted a lifestyle to support his efforts to hone his skills, drop weight and build muscle.
He bought a house in Dunedin and lived there full-time in the winter so he could workout at the Blue Jays complex, talk with major leaguers and get his diet straight. He worked on what he ate and when he ate, planning his meals around his activity of the day.
The dedication has been worthwhile.
"When I saw him three years ago, he was overweight and he couldn't field a ground ball," Meacham said. "Hitting ground balls to him last spring, it was like a different guy. Hard work paid off."
Tellez isn't afraid of hard work or extra work or even slightly absurd work. Last year in New Hampshire, Meacham saw Tellez fielding fly balls in the outfield. When Meacham asked the first baseman why, Tellez replied: "Just in case something happens and they call me up and throw me out there, I'm prepared."
"I'm like what? Are you crazy?" Meacham said with a laugh. "They're not putting you in the outfield. But he still does all the work."
For all the work, baseball remains a fickle mental game. The love of information could work against Tellez, where he begins overthinking his at-bats and tries to do too much. For a player who has set some high goals, Tellez can sometimes get caught up in the artificial numbers he sets for himself.
"Last year he was so intent on 'I'm going to get to the big leagues this year. I told myself when I was 21,' or whatever number he put on himself, that he was going to get to the big leagues," Meacham said. "He started out bad and I think he finally stopped trying to worry about something he didn’t have control over and started getting better every day.
"My thought process, and I try to pass it along to those guys, is max out. Whatever you've been blessed with, whatever ability God's blessed you with, try to max it out. If you become the best player that you can be, all the other stuff is in everybody else's hands anyway. I think he believes that and if he does that he's going to be in the majors for a long time. His goal isn't so much when he gets there or how he gets there, but getting there and staying there."
And while there have been early-season struggles, the upside is the recognition by Tellez that he's pressing, trying to correct an entire season with one swing of the bat. That's a positive not found in the sabermetrics. after all, he can't fix what he doesn't acknowledge.
"I focus on being the same guy day in and day out, coming to the yard and doing exactly what I need to do and not get out of character, which is something I've struggled with this season," Tellez said. "I've gone out of character to try to do more than I should. And then the time something happens that I don't like, I feel I have to make up for it with one swing or one play and I just add more pressure on myself instead of playing the game like I can – as a kid with a smile on his face and playing the game hard."