First baseman Rowdy Tellez posted the best season of his five-year big league career in 2022, mashing 35 home runs and 23 doubles in 153 games for the Milwaukee Brewers.
While the big left-hander was a trendy pick to improve last season as MLB’s rule change limiting infield shifts seemed destined to open hitting lanes for him, Tellez struggled in 2023, managing just 13 long balls in 105 games as forearm and thumb injuries limited his effectiveness. The Pirates signed him to a one-year, $3.2 million contract in December, hoping that they’ll get a version of Tellez closer to his 2022 form and giving him a chance to prove himself in the process.
At 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, power is Tellez’ calling card. With a career slash line of .233/.304/.446, though, he often doesn’t make enough solid contact to balance out his misses. When he gets ahold of a pitch, he’s likely to punish it, posting the seventh-highest exit velocity (116.9 miles per hour) in the league on a hit in 2022. Those opportunities can be hard to come by, of course, but having a healthy season to take advantage of the shift ban could be just what Tellez needs to round out his boom or bust potential.
First Base Defense
Tellez grades below average defensively, with Baseball Savant giving him first and second percentile sprint speed and arm strength, respectively, in 2023. The good news for first base is that those skills aren’t often needed, and -2 fielding runs through the course of a season isn’t exactly ghastly.
As it stands right now, Tellez is the only real option to play first base on the Pirates’ roster. Jared Triolo and Connor Joe have spent time there in the past, but that’s more out of necessity than anything else. Most of their 2023 appearances at first base came after the Pirates traded Carlos Santana to the Padres.
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, rumors have swirled that general manager Ben Cherington still might have some moves left to make in free agency, like bringing Santana back. Just how big of a role Tellez takes with the Pirates in 2024 likely hinges on the other moves Cherington makes at the position, if any.