Corporeal fount of glee Raimel Tapia has received more plate appearances this spring than in years past. As such, more of the lefty outfield prospect’s plate appearances have appeared on MLB.tv, which is nice for those of us who don’t have the luxury of watching his minor league games in person. It’s also generated attention outside of Rockies’ circles. At Vice Sports, Mike Pielluci’s recently published an excellent profile of Tapia. In short, Pielluci suggests that Tapia is much more than unorthodox swing mechanics; he’s someone with confidence and poise who the Rockies have believed in and supported since they signed him as a 16 year-old.
Rockies Farm Director Zach Wilson, to Pielluci, put it this way: "when he’s in the box, you’re in a fight with him." Let’s look at a fight.
It was the eighth inning of a March 17th spring training game against the Angels. Tapia’s opponent was a major leaguer, though not a terribly established one. Right-handed reliever Javy Guerra has thrown 150 1/3 big league innings and posted a 2.93 ERA since 2011.
A reliever with a deep repertoire, Guerra throws a fastball, a cutter, a changeup, and a curveball. While not all of his pitches in this game were recorded, Brooks Baseball states that his fastball averaged about 93 mph. Guerra began the inning by hitting Charlie Blackmon in the butt and giving him first base. He followed that up with a walk, which required a mound visit from the dugout. With two on and nobody out, Guerra struck out Kyle Parker. That brought up Tapia.
Guerra didn’t begin the inning very sharp, and by the time Tapia came up to bat, he was in trouble. While it’s true that spring training results don’t matter, this was a high pressure situation, relatively, for Guerra. He was a well placed groundball away from getting out of the inning without allowing a run. But Guerra was also a couple of hits away from letting the Rockies to chip in to the lead.
Tapia took the first pitch for a strike. It was a fastball, possibly with some cut, that caught the outer edge of the zone. It was the final time of the at bat Tapia left his bat on his shoulder. The pitch was close. And it looks like he took it because he thought it was a ball. Indeed, catcher Jett Band had to shift a touch to his left to receive the ball, which suggests that Guerra missed his spot. Tapia, it appears, will swing at anything he thinks is a strike. This could prove beneficial for him and his future because it disincentivizes strike throwing.
Guerra followed that up with another fastball up in the zone. This one was closer to the center than the first pitch, and it might have even trailed inside. As opposed to the first pitch, it looks like Guerra’s located his second offering where he wanted it. Tapia fouled this one off. His body language suggests that he really liked the pitch—as if he lost an opportunity to win the fight. The foul ball made it 0-2.
When most hitters are down 0-2, they might get a little protective. Perhaps they try to shorten their swing a bit to favor contact over authoritative barreling. Maybe they keep an eye out for the pitcher’s secondary pitches. Raimel Tapia does both of these things, but he also changes his batting stance. This is the source of much of the "unorthodox" descriptions Tapia receives. His two strike approach used to span almost the entire length of the batter's box:
Photo credit: Charlie Drysdale
It’s changed recently. Tapia told MLB.com's Thomas Harding that he, rather than the Rockies' coaching staff, initiated the change. The alteration and its source indicates that Tapia can adapt his approach, and that the Rockies trust Tapia to make adjustments. His "approach at the plate" is not just a batting stance. It's more about winning the fight. This is what his two strike stance looks like this these days:
As expected, Guerra attempted to get Tapia out with one of his off-speed pitches. He threw him a fading changeup. The pitch, which was another well located offering, fell out of the zone as it approached the plate. The few velocity readings from the game suggest that this pitch was about 83 mph—ten mph slower than his fastball. If Tapia didn’t swing, it would have been a ball. As it was, he fouled off the attempted knockout punch to extend the life of the at bat.
Guerra shifted gears. After Tapia fought off his changeup, he went to his other off-speed pitch, the curveball. Guerra's curve runs about 80 mph and has 12-6 vertical movement. Just like the previous pitch, Guerra placed this one low and toward the outer portion of the plate. Again, if Tapia didn’t swing, it would have been a ball. Abstractly, a 2-2 count is preferred to an 0-2 count. But spoiling tough to hit pitches isn’t a bad outcome either. It forces the pitcher to keep working, and it provides a higher likelihood that the moundsman will make a mistake.
After Tapia fouled away two off-speed pitches, Guerra stuck with his curveball to try to get Tapia out. It was another heavy pitch that, if taken, would have been called a ball. With that said, it’s also a pitch that a lot of batters swing through. A frequent comment about Tapia is that he swings at everything because he truly believes that he can hit everything. Here, he’s showing that fouling pitches off should be considered a part of his skillset—like a scrawny Joey Votto.
In the sixth and final pitch of the at bat, Guerra made a mistake. Bandy, the catcher, set up toward third base. It looked as if he wanted another fastball high and toward the outside edge of the zone, like Guerra opened the at bat. Guerra missed his location this time. The pitch, which might have been a cutter, drifted over the plate and sat belt high. Tapia drilled it for an RBI single to right field. Guerra made a bad pitch to Tapia, but the only reason there was a sixth pitch in the at bat was because Tapia wouldn't be put down earlier.
This was a spring training at bat—it was a part of two consecutive tie games the Rockies and Angels played. The at bat didn’t matter in the way that nothing in spring training really does. But this and Tapia’s other plate appearances give us a good look at him on something close to the biggest stage. At the very least, this look gives us a view of him against a major leaguer who has seen success and showed him quality pitches. The combative approach to hitting is obvious. It’s found in the swings and the refusal to go down without a fight. There's more though. In these six pitches, Tapia’s confidence shines as much as his ability.
This single at bat doesn't mean that Tapia is destined to find MLB success. But if he does succeed as a big leaguer, this at bat shows how he's going to do it.