We've long been trumpeting Raimel Tapia as a legitimate Major League prospect in the Colorado Rockies' organization; last month, we ranked him sixth among the Rockies' top 30 prospects. Of course, we are far from alone in recognizing Tapia's ability, with Baseball Prospectus naming him the 42nd best prospect in the game, among many others.
As we are all no doubt aware of by now, it's Tapia's unique—and thus far successful—game plan at the plate that has divided many scouts; a combination of incredible bat-to-ball skills with a bit of an unorthodox two-strike approach leave him as the Rockies' most volatile prospect, as Jeff Aberle noted in the outfielder's recent PuRPs profile:
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.
As we did on Tuesday morning regarding Rockies pitching prospect Peter Lambert, I reached out to scout Chris Kusiolek for first-hand insight on Tapia's skills and projection. As he'll note in our discussion, Kusiolek watched Tapia all summer at High-A Modesto in the California League, and then in the Arizona Fall League and instructional work through the offseason in Scottsdale, giving us a really deep peek into one informed opinion of the 22-year-old Dominican.
On Tapia’s prospect future: "There's a fairly distinct book out on Raimel Tapia, though I've been able to catch him extensively through Modesto and then luckily enough through the AFL after David Dahl didn’t go through the program. I’d say I’ve gotten around 30+ looks at him over the last year. It’s an extremely low risk as far as getting Major League value out of the kid. He puts bat to the damn baseball and that gets you to the highest level. It’s regurgitating what has already been said by countless others, but his barrel control is absolutely exceptional. His hand-eye coordination is ridiculous, he's extremely strong with explosive hands, strong wrists, and above-average bat speed, and he’s able to do it all: barrel above hands, outer third, inner half, all quadrants, and he puts the ball in play with legitimate base running utility as a 6 runner."
★ ★ ★
From a purely statistical perspective, obviously, Tapia ought not have any doubters. The outfielder has only hit under .300 once—the first professional season of his career as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League. And while he has been fortunate to have thus far played in relative hitter's environments across the Pioneer League's Grand Junction, at Asheville's McCormick Field, and then the California League's Modesto, a very strong showing in the Arizona Fall League (.330/.341/.466) ought to dissuade doubters a bit, too.
Across his career, Tapia has slashed .314/.363/.443, and while he has a remarkably strong strikeout rate (just 17.7% in 2015), he also has far too low of a walk rate (4.4% in 2015) for a player who has speed to burn on the base paths. Sadly, low walk rates have been the norm in the Rockies' recent history, though that may be quickly changing.
★ ★ ★
On Tapia’s approach at the plate: "He's an intrinsic, special kid at the plate which is why I say he has a relatively low risk profile as a Major League regular in my opinion. His approach is inconsistent, though, and pitch selectivity is rudimentary and impatient right now given his knowledge of his own hitting capability. He knows he can barrel balls, but he still tends to pounce and sit fastballs off release as opposed to tracking and selecting pitches. He doesn't perceive depth adequately, and may possess a neurological deficiency in that regard that impairs his ability to barrel the ball and track spin. Some guys neurologically can't judge depth or perceive spin, it's just an optical issue. You can tell by the way he swings and times himself to pitches like that."
"Ultimately, though there's greater upside potential there, and he'll use his plate coverage, explosive strong hands, and absurd barrel control and those innate attributes will carry him regardless. There’s not much utility there with raw power, and it’s not conducive to actualize in-game with linear paths, but he’s shown ability to sit out front of pitches and capitalize on mistakes in order to manifest fringe raw power to his pull side."
On Tapia’s defense: "His foot speed is good and he’s able to cover ground in outfield; he has long levers, wiry frame, athletic build with fast twitch athleticism that assists in actualizing the utility of the glove. Good reads and a good first step are adequate, although his routes to the ball can be unconventional at times. But, he shows enough athleticism and ability to read off contact to where projection can have short term utility in center field. For me, he’s a 5 glove, with plus arm strength. He uses his entire body in throws, demonstrates good accuracy and cognizance of situation, and has enough arm strength for a prototypical right field profile."
On Tapia’s future: "Overall, Raimel Tapia is an extremely talented kid that'll get to the big leagues fairly easily and have everyday Major League utility, with athletic and physical intangibles potentially being indicative of something even greater. There’s nothing wrong with a regular contributor, though, and this guy is going to absolutely f*cking hit baseballs in the Major Leagues."
★ ★ ★
Nothing else to say after that last sentence—I had to make sure we included that to adequately convey Kusiolek's belief in Tapia's ability to barrel the baseball. Not to oversimplify it too much, but if you put the bat on the ball, you'll keep getting chances until pitchers overcome that tool. It appears Tapia is going to have plenty of chances at the big league level one day very soon.