Switch hitters. With the percentage of them slowly dwindling year by year to the current rate of just 14% (65/460 hitters with at least 300 total ABs) it was at between 2013 and last year, it is increasingly becoming a lost art and thus an even more sought after commodity. Accordingly, the methodical weaning away of switch hitters has made an already rare commodity even rarer: the switch hitting catcher. Never a popular player due to the susceptibility to injury at the position and the lack of offensive prowess of battery men, teams have only been able to reap the benefits of a switch hitting backstop 94 times since 1901. Of those 94, due to the aforementioned injury bug, lack of offensive capability or other unforeseen circumstances, only 48 have been every day players who have topped at least 500 plate appearances while playing at least half of their games behind the plate. Of those 48, only nine have come about in the last five years. Thus, when a guy like Jorge Posada, Victor Martinez, Yasmani Grandal, or Matt Weiters surfaces, he is looked upon as a fantastic athlete with great vision which aids him on both sides of the ball and thus an extremely powerful assert to the team. By having the fourth best month of his career this May, a .344/.394/.508 campaign, Tomas Telis took a step towards that future.
Currently just 24 years old, Telis has already amassed quite the extensive career in the minors and gotten his first taste of big league ball. By the looks of him this season, he liked the taste of that morsel and wants to get another one ASAP.
A native of El Tigre, Venezuela, a 17-year-old Telis began his career in 2008 with a .299/.374/.380 campaign, outhitting the likes of league mates such as Marcell Ozuna, Jonathan Villar and Ender Inciarte. Telis followed that with a 2009 season in the Arizona League in which he hit .322/.333/.470, leading his team in each category amongst those who played at least 30 games. He was one of just three catchers in the league to top the .300 mark with his batting average, one of two to top the .370 mark with his slugging percentage and one of two to top the .800 mark in OPS. His 86 total bases by way of 18 XBHs including five triples ranked 12th in the league. Telis got 144 more ABs in 37 games in the Arizona League in 2010, most of which came at DH allowing him to hone his offensive craft a bit more exclusively. This resulted in a similar season but in slightly better totals in OBP (.351), RBI (35), and walks (6) albeit in nine less games.
Telis made the jump to full season ball in 2011 with the Sally League’s Hickory Crawdads. That year, Telis tallied career highs in almost every countable stat including homers (11), RBIs (69), doubles (28), ABs (461) and runs scored (67). At the break, his .305/.345/.439 line earned him his first All-Star Game nod. Telis adjusted to the rigors of a full season well, hitting .288/.311/.419 in the second half. His overall His .297 BA ranked seventh in the Sally League and his .430 SLG ranked 30th, earning him Texas’ organizational MVP honors
Telis fell off a bit in 2012 offensively, hitting .247/.283/.331, all career lows and struck out 56 times, a career high. He made some great strides defensively, though, throwing out 57% of potential base stealers, a career high and his meal ticket to AA in 2013. Making the hardest jump there is to make in the minors, Telis hit .264/.290/.353 with 46 Ks in 91 games. His defense also fell off a bit as he allowed 78 steals in 115 attempts, dooming him to repeat a level for the first time in his career in 2014.
A 22-year-old Telis made up for having to begin a second season in Frisco though by making it all the way from AA to the MLB Rangers for his major league debut on August 25th of 2014. After hitting .303/.339/.401 and matching his career high in walks (17) while throwing out 41% of his runners over his first 267 ABs and 70 games in central Texas, he made the move south to AAA Round Rock. After just 36 games there in which he hit .345/.377/.489 with three homers and 17 RBI, the Rangers selected him to replace Geovany Soto whom they had traded. He played 18 games for the Rangers, hitting .250/.271/.279 to end a fantastic overall year which spelled a .318/.352/.431 minor league line with five homers, 50 RBI and a career best full season 1.78 K/BB.
Following a .291/.327/.404, five homer, 25 RBI, 31/14 K/BB, 21 XBH offensive start over his first 70 games in Round Rock and catching 27 of 56 runners defensively as well as six more games with the Rangers to start 2015, Telis was traded to the Marlins along with pitcher Cody Ege for reliever Sam Dyson. He began his Marlins career by hitting .333/.389/.333 over his first 13 games a Zephyr and, as a September call-up, appeared in 17 games with the Marlins. His start to 2016 has been nothing short of spectacular as he is on pace to slash full season career highs in each category and on pace for full season career highs in RBIs and a career best in K/BB. With Jeff Mathis off to another terrible start to his season, this time .180/.226/.280 with 15 Ks and three walks and just a 25% caught stealing percentage, Telis’ third major league callup shouldn’t be too far away.
A true switch hitter who has faced lefties and a righty 33% as much as he has faced righties as a lefty in his career and only faced pitchers from the same side twice in his career, Telis enjoys similar success from both sides (.269 as RHB vs LHP, .304 as LHB vs RHB), Telis is mechanically sound on both sides. Swinging from a very low split stace, the 5’8, 200 pound Telis minimizes the strike zone before using a front foot timing trigger to get his weight moving backward and step into the ball. He transfers his weight from back to front and maintains looseness in his hands well, allowing his extremely advantageous plate vision to serve him until the ball is over the plate. When he does swing, it is an athletic stroke in which he snaps his wide hips through the zone and keeps his elbows pointed downward. It has slight loft which gives him the ability to reach fences, but at his size and especially when you consider he has gone yard just 20 times since 2011, it is an offering that is better projected as that of a for-average hitter. But that is nothing to shrug at. Telis’ versatile plate game follows him in to the field where he has eligibility at first base and in the outfield, making him a guy that is extremely easy to get in to games and, vica versa, a tough guy for opposing managers to match up against, especially late in games. Without great current defensive skills having thrown out just 28% of his runners in his minor league career and just 10% of runners in his small sample MLB career (2 of 21), that backup and quality bat off the bench capacity looks to be the one this current version of Telis looks to serve on an immediate basis but should the likes of Mathis and Chris Johnson, who has hit just .245/.300/.373 platooning with Justin Bour, continue to struggle, could step in to regular playing time for a Marlins team battling for the playoffs later this year. With progress and improvement to his defensive game, which is entirely possible for the still 24-year-old, Telis could easily become a very valuable every day backstop. It is that capacity which the Marlins, who gave up quality relief help for, will be hoping Telis can grow in to. They, as well as we, will be watching the rest of his maturation process very intently.