Grand Junction Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia has been named the Pioneer League Player of the Year. Tapia had an impressive stateside debut that included breaking a record previously held by 2012's 9th overall draft pick David Dahl. He hit safely in 29 consecutive games.
Like Dahl before him, Tapia wins the Pioneer League's best player award largely due to his ability to wield a bat like an artist with a paint brush. Fans of baseball and art alike should wait with eager anticipation to see how he handles a bigger canvass.
Unlike Dahl before him, Tapia did not come into his first year in American professional ball with first-round expectations. While few were surprised to see Dahl hit so well, Tapia's eye popping line of .357/.399/.562 good for an OPS of .961 came without much preamble at all.
His numbers have been increasing across the board in his first three years and his jump in slugging from .361 to .562 (7 HRs, 20 2Bs, 6 3Bs) is both exciting and reason to be cautious with optimism.
There is evidence to suggest Tapia is simply getting better and his increase in production was inevitable. That's what his teammates and coaches would tell you. However, some might say "Coors Light" Sam Suplezio Field and a little luck led to his increase in Isolated Power from .060 and .046 in the DSL, to a whopping .205 in Grand Junction.
I suspect the truth is likely somewhere in between being a perfect storm of luck, environment, and the growth of a very talented, athletic and still growing young man who may yet prove to be either a slap-hitting utility outfielder or a true five-tool player with real strength and smart speed.
His low walk rate (5.2%) may be a bit of a concern moving forward, but it should also be noted that unlike his other offensive stats, this is the worst of his career. He posted 9.2% and 7.4% walk rates in the DSL. He told Purple Row's Bryan Kilpatrick, "I just feel like I should swing when every pitch I see is right where I can hit it."
In three years Tapia has posted wOBA of .332, .371, and .419 along with wRC+ numbers of 97, 121, and 141. It's hard to argue at this point against his methods. Still, at the higher levels he will eventually need to walk more as pitchers won't keep throwing the ball over the plate if Tapia keeps smacking it into the gap.
He is almost certain to regress next year against better competition and the fact that, at some point, improving on a number just gets ridiculous, and a batting average of .357 has got to be somewhere around that point.
But if he can make adjustments at the higher levels, and work on maintaining a higher OBP, the Rockies may have a real gem here. His above average speed, good defensive instincts, and plus arm combined with his production from this season make Tapia one of the most exciting prospects in the Rockies system.
The fact that he won this award over even his own teammate, Ryan McMahon, who was part of this list from Baseball America as evidence that the Rockies had the fifth best draft of any MLB team in 2013, speaks volumes of Tapia's dominance over the Pioneer League and his potential for the future.
The Pioneer League consists of Rookie affiliates for the Brewers, Reds, Dodgers, Angels, White Sox, Royals, and Diamondbacks.
For more on Raimel Tapia, check out the conversations he had with Bryan Kilpatrick and myself earlier this season.
Congratulations Raimel, and go Rockies.