PuRP No. 5: Raimel Tapia (410 points, 16 ballots) | Summer 2014 Ranking: 5 | High Ballot 3, Mode Ballot 6
Tapia, a 20-year-old outfielder who played at Low-A Asheville, was a highly regarded international signee ($175,000 bonus) for the Rockies back in 2010. After two years in the Dominican Summer League, Tapia made his way stateside in 2013, and all he did was win the Pioneer League Player of the Year award.
In 286 plate appearances that season, Tapia was unconscious, hitting .357/.399/.562 (141 wRC+) with 33 extra-base hits against players 1.5 years older than him on average, all the while playing a solid center field. He wasn't a very patient hitter (5 percent walk rate), but it's hard to quibble with a .399 on-base percentage. Plus, all of that swinging didn't lead to a lot of strikeouts (11 percent K rate). That's just about as good of a stateside first impression that you can make.
This season, Tapia struggled initially in his first exposure to full-season ball, hitting just .244/.290/.326 in April. After that, though, his worst month was his .313/.376/.424 August. In all, against older South Atlantic League pitchers, Tapia had a .326/.382/.453 line (134 wRC+) with 42 XBHs and 33 stolen bases in 539 plate appearances. It should be noted that while Tapia was a .300/.370+ (BA/OBP) player both at home and on the road, his slugging was just .377 on the road compared to .534 at home, calling into question his power projection. Tapia did have a relatively lower 16.5 K% (career 14.3%) with a similarly low 6.5 BB% (career 7.0%), so his profile is best described as a hitter that puts the ball in play often.
As a prospect, Tapia's biggest asset is his potentially elite hit tool -- one that most talent evaluators have between a 60 and a 70 (where 50 is major league average). In fact, all of Tapia's five tools could approach major league-average ability when all is said and done. Add all of that up and you get an average major leaguer or even a first-division regular.
Nick Faleris of Baseball Prospectus rated Tapia third in the system, bestowing upon him a 55 Future Value rating:
Strengths: Excellent feel for contact; above-average bat speed; malleable barrel delivery allows for consistent contact through variable planes; high level of comfort working across the diamond; good balance throughout; see-ball-hit-ball approach; some pop to pull with bat speed allowing for turn and burn on the inner half; above-average foot speed can play up underway thanks to solid feel on the basepaths; present arm strength; precocious five-tool talent in nascent stages of development.
Weaknesses: Speed can play down out of box depending on finish swing to swing; lots of uncertainty in first step limits range in the outfield; not a natural track-and-close defender; can come around throws, losing carry and accuracy; aggressive approach is bat-to-ball-reliant, leaving open possibility that quality sequencing will disrupt timing and ability to barrel; needs to add strength.
Tapia utilizes an unconventional set up and variable swing that doesn't sit well with evaluators who prefer their hit tools wrapped in more traditional packaging. For those who can work past the optical quirks, what remains is an innate ability to find the ball with the barrel, regardless of quadrant or pitch type. The secret to Tapia's success is the ability of the native Dominican to meld natural bat speed and hand-eye coordination with consistent balance throughout multi-look swings, resulting in a borderline unsettling level of comfort and confidence in the box.
There is still a great deal to be determined as far as Tapia's ultimate offensive game, and time will tell whether more advanced arms will force the gifted batsman to alter his approach. Even with added strength through maturation of the body, the power could ultimately play below average if Tapia elects to keep a contact-centric approach to hitting that places a higher level of import on utilizing the whole field and putting the ball in play than finding spots and offerings to drive.
Slightly less bullish on Tapia was Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs, who ranked Tapia sixth in the system while giving him a 50 FV:
Tapia gets wide-ranging review from scouts, with some crushing him for an unusual swing and skinny frame, while others point to his elite bat control and performance (.342/.392/.503 in over 700 PA in domestic leagues). One scout said Tapia's defensive reads were questionable and that his power wouldn't profile in right field. Another scout gave a low-end comparison of Jon Jay, as a non-traditional outfielder that can play all three positions, doesn't have much power but hits enough that you find a spot for him. The consensus is that this kid can hit despite sometimes funky mechanics and he has enough tools to be useful in some kind of everyday role.
Many (myself included) were caught off guard by Tapia's swift prospect rise and initially kept him lower on their ballots, waiting to see if he could replicate his numbers in full-season ball. Now that he has, the electorate has him into the top five in the system for the second straight list (I placed him fifth myself). Tapia will get to prove himself next year in High-A, wherein we'll get a better idea of what kind of player Tapia will be in the Show. A 40-man roster protection after the season is a virtual lock.
Contract Status: 2010 free agent (Dominican Republic), Rule 5 eligible after 2015, three options remaining
MLB ETA: 2017