With his second consecutive impressive season, 18-year-old Tomas Telis has cemented himself as the Texas Rangers' top catching prospect.
The switch-hitter is best-known for his abilities at the plate. Telis has excellent hand-eye coordination, allowing him to square up balls regardless of where they are thrown. The native of Venezuela finished up his Arizona League season on Saturday with a .322 batting average and 11 doubles, five triples, and two home runs.
Though Telis walked just four times in 183 at-bats, he only had 15 strikeouts.
Telis initially signed with the Rangers as a shortstop, and he grew up playing in the infield. While his body has filled out over the last couple of years, Telis is still fast and athletic for a catcher, as his five triples and eight steals in nine attempts would indicate.
Ryley Westman, who is just 25-years-old himself, was hired by the Rangers last season as a catching instructor. The Missouri native coached in the Dominican Republic in 2008, and he worked with the AZL Rangers this summer.
Lone Star Dugout spoke with Westman, who has spent the last two years with Telis, about the catcher's development behind the plate.
Jason Cole: You started working with Telis last year in the Dominican, right?
Ryley Westman: Yeah, he was down there in the Dominican. He's a converted guy. We originally signed him as an infielder, so he has been at it for just a little bit over a year right now.
Cole: Did you get to the Dominican Republic for the start of last season?
Westman: I got there midway. About midway through last year. I actually got there for the July 2nd team. When we signed our July 2nd's, I came over and managed the games that they were playing, so it was midway. Right before July.
Cole: I guess you got to work with Telis last year as well, then. Where was he at defensively when you got there?
Westman: He has come a long way. Obviously he was never a catcher before that. The biggest thing with catching—after you learn technique and you get a better feel for stuff, it's reps from there. Him getting game time and more experience.
But he has definitely come a long way. Not to say that Telis was bad when he started. Just his feel back there as a catcher has gotten much better. Now he has got to get better with receiving. And he is young. He has got to learn about calling a game—what situations, why this pitch. He has to develop relationships with his pitching staff.
But Telis is right on track where he needs to be. Obviously hitting-wise, from both sides, we love his bat. He swings it really well. But every day, he is getting better and better. He brings a good work ethic. He brings a good tempo for that group down there.
We've got a good group of three guys up here—O'Conner, Torres, and Telis. They get after it with blocking. We block every other day for the most part. His biggest thing is receiving right now. He blocks well.
Like I said, he's getting better at calling a game, but his receiving is only going to get better. That's the biggest thing. Just getting those games reps, and like I said, he's only got a year of catching under his belt. I think for that being said, he is probably ahead of where he needs to be.
Cole: Did he have the opportunity to call his own game in the Dominican last year?
Westman: Yeah, he did. He called all of his own games. Occasionally Jayce Tingler, who manages out there—occasionally Jayce will give a little bit of advice here and there on calling a few pitches. But for the most part—I would say 98 percent of the time—the game was Telis'.
Cole: What does he have to do to get better at calling his own game? Is it simply experience?
Westman: I think just maturing as a catcher. Just seeing new hitters every day. Let's say we play the Giants. For example, maybe they're a pull team. Or we go with the Angels—they're a speed team. Guys that are going to stay inside the baseball.
You get familiar with those hitters as you work your way up through the system. You start knowing hitters. You start knowing tendencies. Maybe organizations have tendencies.
So I think every day, he is able to go out there and catch. And let's say he sees a guy that is an arm bar. Or he starts noticing that guys are far from the plate or close to the plate. How do we pitch those guys? Or what pitcher is he working with? Is it an Escobar, who can attack really well with his fastball? Or another guy like Richard Alvarez, who has a tremendous changeup. Can we throw backdoor counts here on a guy and work from behind?
It's really developing a better relationship with your pitching staff and understanding what they bring and what they are most comfortable with. And then from there, getting to know hitters in general. Attack their weaknesses and see their flaws.
Cole: For any guy that picks up catching out of nowhere like Telis did, what are some of the biggest challenges, especially right off the bat?
Westman: The biggest challenge, by far, is just getting back there—you've got a lot of guys who have never caught before—and receiving. You're doing that on every pitch. Occasionally, maybe once every at-bat, you're going to have to block a ball. But you're receiving every single pitch.
For a new guy that is catching, I think the biggest thing he can do is obviously put in work on receiving drills and stuff like that. But from there, get him into the bullpen and have him catch as much as he can.
You can go from being a third baseman to a second baseman and I know it's a change, but relatively you're still fielding a ground ball. I know it's a different angle and you have different responsibilities. But catching, you're back there trying to stick pitches, get underneath a low curveball or something like that.
And it's an art. It really is. You have got to work at it to develop it. More than anything, you've got to put in the time. And I think getting into a bullpen is one of the most beneficial things you can do to receive as much as you can. You can't over-rep it.
Cole: There is one last thing I wanted to talk about. In terms of throwing out runners and pop time and things like that, how is he coming along?
Westman: I'll tell you what—it's funny you ask that. One of the biggest improvements he has had is his feet. His feet are so quick. Once those feet are down and the ball is out of his hand, he has got a good pop time.
Occasionally he'll get lazy and instead of taking a ball straight to his ear, he'll kind of go down and out of his glove. His feet are set and ready to go, but the transfer time is a little bit slow. But when he goes on a straight line—that straight path from ball to his ear, it is quick.
We've had him at a 1.84 occasionally. But when he goes down and out of his glove, we'll get the occasional 2. He has worked a lot at that.
His feet have come a long way. That's the biggest thing in my mind. If you've got quick feet, the arm is going to follow. It's going to be right there. It is hand-in-hand. But if your feet don't work, you can have a guy with the greatest arm in the world and if he doesn't have quick feet, it doesn't matter because it's going to take too long to get out of his hand. So you'll take the guy with fast feet every time, and that's something Telis has. He's got good feet.
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Ryley Westman
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