"I like playing like the pitcher just stole my dog." -- Robbie Tenerowicz
California infielder Robbie Tenerowicz was drafted in the 27th round (810th overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, and, he says, he’s headed to the pro ranks because, among other reasons, he looks good in their colors.
All joking aside, the Rays organization is getting a Tenerowicz that’s the best version of himself that he’s been since he arrived in Berkeley. He's finally comfortable in his own skin, he said.
"I'm pretty sure I'm going to go," Tenerowicz said. "It's a good opportunity. You never know what happens. It's probably -- well, not probably -- it's the best job offer I'll ever get, so I feel like I have to take it, and I want to take it, and I like the Rays. I like [area scout] Allen Hall. I talk to him a good amount before the draft, and I really like him, and I think I look good in their colors, too. It'll make my eyes pop."
Tenerowicz had talked with Hall multiple times before the draft, and, the now-former Cal second baseman said, "he kept it real with me."
"'So-and-so is what you need to do, so-and-so is what we're looking for, and if it's there, we'll take you, and if it's not, we won't,' and, thankfully, I did enough for them to take me," Tenerowicz said. "I'm glad he liked me, so he was at all of our games. He knows more about me than anyone."
This season, Tenerowicz hit .299, after hitting .168 and then .182 in his freshman and sophomore campaigns, respectively. What unlocked the physical hitter that the Bears recruited back in 2013?
"For the first two years, I didn't want to piss anybody off with the way I played, and in college baseball, I wanted to play 'eff you' to everybody else, and that was the way I played this year, and it helps. I think I found a way to do it, in my head, and I felt comfortable enough to do it, with my mouth, talking trash, and it worked. You learn how to keep it inside you, sometimes and put a smile on your face, but still say 'eff you' to the pitcher and get a hit with a smile on your face. You look like you're looking at a butterfly in the sky, but you're not; you're locked in. I like playing like that. I like playing like the pitcher just stole my dog."
Putting the pieces together this year -- both offense and defense -- is what drew the Rays to Tenerowicz. He set career highs in batting average, games played (53), at-bats (204), runs (40), hits (61), RBIs (34), doubles (14), triples (3), home runs (6) and walks (16), while striking out 38 times -- only three more than 2015, when he had 72 fewer at-bats.
"I see why they drafted me, and I know why they drafted me, so I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing this year, and hopefully find my way up in the bigs in the next couple years," he said.
Cal had a league-best 57 double plays this year (21st in the majors), with Tenerowicz playing a part in 40 of them -- second-most in the Pac-12, tied with shortstop Preston GrandPre.
Last season, the Bears led the Pac-12 with 65 twin killings, with Tenerowicz coming in ninth in the league with 29 turned.
In 2015, Tenerowicz had a .990 fielding percentage, and while that dipped this year to .973, the kind of range that he has at second base creates outs out of nothing.
Tenerowicz has a remarkable sense of where he is on the diamond at all times, and there are times where it feels like he’s got eyes in the back of his head. He has no fear turning two at the bag, has a tremendous eye for the ball off of deflections, stays with the ball on those deflections and has superb vision and feel for spin and bounce.
His arm is certainly strong enough to play short, and that’s where you’d normally put your best defender, but to be honest, he completely locks down the right side of the infield, and plays with so much energy, but it’s not wasted energy, nor is it for show. He loves the glove work, and one of the reasons he told me he’s going pro a year early is because he wants to take ground balls all day, every day.
During a self-scout, Tenerowicz acknowledged that, at times, he looks lazy, and most times he looks fundamentally un-sound. He knows what. Part of those optics is the fact that he knows Evans Diamond so well that he knows when he can essentially take the seemingly easy or lazy approach to a ball, because he knows where the bad hops and the good ones are coming from.
"I know Evans Diamond really well, and I know there are some spots I don't want to field a ground ball, and I know there are some spots where it's going to take a higher bounce than another spot," Tenerowicz said. "Sometimes, when I would get a funky hop, it would hit that little patch, and that's when it looked ugly, and I just got in front of it. When we go to other fields, I can get a good feel of the infield and how it's going to play. There are certain times, when it looks good, is when, in my head, I'm saying, 'This isn't going to take a bad hop,' and there are other times, when, 'This one's going to be a little tricky, look funky, doesn't matter, I don't care, just get the guy out at first.'
"Now that I'm about to be in the minors, I'm sure there's going to be an infield coach that' going to help me out, so I don't have to grind through any ground balls. It's going to be good enough where, hey, bad hop, still going to field it perfectly."
Where Does Cal Go at Second?
Head coach David Esquer said multiple times this season that Tenerowicz's future in the program was at second base -- despite him playing 10 games at shortstop -- but now that Tenerowicz is gone, the Bears do have a ready-made replacement in Ripken Reyes. As a freshman, Reyes played in 16 games, with two starts, and hit .250 with a .952 fielding percentage.
While a shortstop by trade, Reyes doesn't have a plus arm, but does have range and lightning-quick hands and a very sound glove -- a perfect fit for second base.
"He's good," Tenerowicz said. "He's the opposite of me. I look really lazy sometimes, and I'm not, and he looks like he's moving at 100 miles an hour, and once he tones that down, he might be better than me. I tell him every day he's never going to be better than me -- jokingly -- but I think keeping it loose like that, showing him that it's not boot camp; we're still playing baseball, that helped him a little bit. He's going to be really good, though. I'll tell you that."
Seeing Reyes's hands up-close, on the field, it's tough to argue that there are many faster pairs, but Tenerowicz does have a say: "Yeah, mine."