Among the national prospect writers, Raimel Tapia is easily the Rockies prospect (among those with a big league future, anyways) that generates the most disagreement. To wit, the almost 22-year-old lefty outfielder (on Feb 4) was just placed as the No. 42 prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus in their top 101 (sixth in Colorado's system) with a 55 OFP. He had previously been given a 65 OFP by swing guru Ryan Parker. And yet, Tapia didn't even make the MLB.com top 100 on their recent update. He placed eighth in Colorado's system at the mid-season ranking with a 50 OFP. Here's what those entities had to say about Tapia:
Baseball Prospectus (Parker, from mid-year 2014)
Tapia can straight up hit. First 7 I've ever put down on a hitter and I did so with confidence. He makes adjustments during at bats and during his own swings that are usually unseen at this level of minor league ball. Great instincts all around. Hopefully he can add some weight and strength to his frame. Could handle center easily. Top of the order hitter who could either be a table setter or clear the table himself. Special bat.
Baseball Prospectus (101 List)
[Tapia] has bat-to-ball skills border on the preternatural. His ability to get the barrel on almost any pitch leads to some bad contact and chasing, though. He is still raw in center field, but his plus foot speed should let him play at least average there with further development of his reads and routes. The bat would be pushed in a corner, as the power projection is muddied a bit by his stints in Asheville and the Cal League. In short, Tapia has more development room than you would think for a player set to start the 2016 season in Double-A, but the bat is so tantalizing that it keeps him in the top half of this list.
A terrific athlete, Tapia plays a high energy brand of game that in many ways makes him the most exciting player in the organization to watch. At the plate, he's all about making contact. He has a very handsy approach and has shown an ability to hit well with two strikes, getting low in his stance and continuing to put the ball in play with authority. As a result, he doesn't strike out a ton. Tapia has flashed some power, and there might be more to come, though he's more of a line-drive hitter now. A tick-above-average runner, his instincts and aggressiveness help him on the basepaths. He's also shown he can play all three outfield positions well.
Tapia's energy can get in the way at times, but he should learn how to keep it in check when necessary as he matures.
Wilson Karaman of Minor League Ball and Baseball Prospectus provided a detailed review of Tapia in mid-season 2015 (including an Alfonso Soriano comparison) and a more toned-down eyewitness report for BP than Ryan Parker had previously provided:
Tapia is young for the level and it shows in a multitude of rough edges to his game. The base-running and defense are both below-average at present, and while the raw tools suggest potential for improvement he hasn't shown it in either area in my looks. He can certainly hit, but the present approach is exceedingly aggressive, limiting the overall offensive profile and with it the OFP.
There's a ton of mental and physical projection remaining here and a high degree of variance in his potential outcomes. I can't forecast a ceiling of more than a good second-division regular, but you don't have to squint too hard to see an actualized version of Tapia where he eventually hones his approach, the hit tool carries the day, and he develops into a consistent first-division player in his peak years.
It's clear that the divisiveness shown by national prospect writers (and among scouts) on Tapia is their perception of how his hit tool will manifest at the big league level. Tapia has one of the least orthodox swings in the business given its inconsistency depending on the count, but it's been effective enough to give him a .314/.363/.443 career minor league batting line.
Tapia has been successful with those mechanics ever since he 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 with a .357/.399/.562 (141 wRC+) line. Tapia followed that torrid stateside debut up with a similar line in Low-A (134 wRC+) in 2014, prompting his first preseason top 100 accolades (45th overall from BP).
In 2015 in High-A Modesto against pitchers that were 1.5 years older on average, Tapia was once again better than league average at the plate, with a .305/.333/.467 line (112 wRC+) and 55 extra base hits in 593 plate appearances. He also appeared on the World roster for this year's Futures Game, going 2-for-3 with the squad's only run in the game. After the regular season had concluded, Tapia was placed in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. In the AFL against fellow top prospects, Tapia raked to the tune of a .330/.341/.466 line (117 wRC+) in 91 plate appearances.
Here was Chris Rodriguez of 2080 Baseball's report on Tapia's time in the AFL:
Raimel Tapia is a difficult read due to his unorthodox approach and mechanics, as well as his slight build. His athleticism along with some rare baseball-specific skills - excellent hand-eye coordination, elite bat control, and feel for the barrel - help him to excel in the box. Tapia has a live, loose body with which he is able to generate great torque, giving him more pop (45 raw power) than his 160-pound frame might suggest. On defense, he compensates for questionable reads and routes with good speed. If he is able to stick in center field long term, he can be one of the more exciting players at the position.
Here's the bottom line: in his minor league career, Tapia has played in 472 games (including the AFL) and he has 584 hits. Tapia has maintained a pretty steady BABIP as well. It was down to .350 in 2015 from the .380 range it was in Grand Junction and Asheville, but the minor hits his average took in 2015 were made up for in 35 added points of isolated slugging from his 2014 campaign.
The strange mechanics that have some prospects and evaluators cringing are also what has allowed Tapia to remain so remarkably consistent with the bat. His unusual exaggerated crouch, slap-hitting approach is very difficult to project but as of now it has allowed him to hit the ball with authority to all parts of the ballpark.
★ ★ ★
The thing that strikes me after reading these scouting reports, watching the video, and looking at the statistics is that there really are a wide range of potential outcomes with a player like Tapia. He could be a perennial All-Star center fielder and batting champion; or, he could be a good contact hitter with low power and decent speed that profiles as more of a fourth outfielder (and a corner outfielder at that); or, he could flame out entirely, as many prospects do. (I'd prefer not to think about that possibility.) Tapia is a potential five-tool player whose arsenal has some development yet to go to be major league ready.
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 done so for multiple years, the electorate has him comfortably in the upper echelon of Rockies prospects (I placed him seventh myself). Tapia, who was added to the 40 man roster this off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, will get to prove himself again next year in Double-A. There, we'll continue to get a better idea of what kind of player Tapia, arguably the most interesting prospect in the system, will be in the Show.