4. Raimel Tapia (1,028 points, 39 ballots)
Raimel Tapia’s appeal to prospect watchers has never been a mystery. Quite simply, the dude can hit and he does it in an interesting way. Despite unorthodox mechanics (especially a deep two strike crouch you can observe in the video below), Tapia is a career .317/.363/.446 hitter over six minor league seasons. The 22-year-old lefty outfielder has played in 577 minor league games to date and has 728 hits in those games. He's never posted a minor league season stateside with an average below .300 and he hasn't had a wRC+ below 112 in that time. Tapia is a hitting savant and you can't tell me otherwise. His ability to consistently barrel the ball is uncanny and it's going to be his ticket to big league success. As you’ll see below, he is the creative muse about which prospect hounds opine eloquently and profusely.
In 2016 for Double-A Hartford, Tapia got off to a slow start against pitchers who were on average 2.3 years older, hitting just .214/.277/.333 in April. All he did after that was hit .354 in May, .375 in June, and .339 in July to bring his final Double-A line up to .323/.363/.450 in 457 plate appearances with 33 extra base hits (126 wRC+). Lest you think Tapia was a platoon bat, he actually hit better (.370/.429/.540) vs. lefties in 100 at-bats this year than he has against right-handers (.309/.341/.423). In addition, Tapia cut down his strikeouts to 10.7 percent of PAs and raised his walks to 5.5 percent of PAs—all improvements from 2015.
The Rockies jumped Tapia up to Triple-A Albuquerque, where in the friendly offensive environment of the Pacific Coast League he feasted off of pitching that was 4.4 years older. In 110 plate appearances for the Isotopes, Tapia hit .346/.355/.490—a line almost completely devoid of walks and lacking any homers, but worth 120 wRC+ nonetheless. After that success, Tapia got a cup of coffee in the big leagues in early September. In 41 PAs, Tapia hit just .263/.293/.263 with only ten singles and two walks to his credit, but he played a credible center in Coors Field a few times and got that valuable MLB experience.
For much more on Tapia's prospect outlook, check out Bobby DeMuro's profile of Tapia from last winter.
Tapia has been on the preseason Baseball Prospectus top 100 for the last three years now, including #42 in 2016 (and I expect him to rank up there again this year), but BP had been alone in rating him at that level.
MLB.com joined the parade this time around by placing Tapia 90th in their top 100 recently:
Tapia excels at barreling balls with his quick, flat left-handed swing and makes repeated contact, employing an extreme crouch with two strikes to cut down on his whiffs. No one doubts that he'll hit for average, though scouts are divided about how much impact he'll make at the plate. His biggest backers believe he can develop 15-18 homer power, while others think his contact-heavy approach limits his ability to drive the ball and draw walks.
There's some split opinion on Tapia's defensive future as well. He has solid speed and arm strength, giving him the chance to play any of the three outfield positions, though he might lack the range to man center field at spacious Coors Field. He did improve his reads, routes and throwing accuracy in 2016, though his basestealing is still a work in progress.
The 60 hit tool slapped on Tapia by MLB.com is quite rare and valuable, but some growth in power (currently a 40) would allow him to do real damage.
Keith Law of ESPN.com was actually even higher on Tapia, who he ranked 58th in baseball recently:
Tapia has incredible hand-eye coordination and plus bat speed, which allows him to hit like he does despite a hilariously wide stance at the plate that would sink most hitters. His plate coverage is excellent, with his only significant hole being front and back if his timing is off. He’s a plus runner who has really not had enough success on the bases for his speed, and he is an average defender in center who’ll be bumped to a corner by David Dahl.
Tapia could be someone’s center fielder, but he’ll probably end up in right field for the Rockies, and Coors Field is a friendly place for a high-contact hitter such as Tapia, who should be good for 35-40 doubles a year as a Rockie with high batting averages but mediocre OBPs, which makes him a very good regular but probably less than a star.
Though they haven’t released their top 101 yet, Baseball Prospectus is obviously still the high publication on Tapia, placing him 2nd in Colorado’s system with their typical poetic flair:
The Good: Tapia’s swing inspires the kind of prose usually reserved for describing a certain kind of temperamental Russian piano virtuoso. It induces a mix of awe, confusion, and defensiveness in the observer— what Alex Ross describes as “a furor.” His two-strike approach, with a deep crouch that shrinks his strike zone and nearly folds his thin frame in half—a particularly daring interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto. This is a blustery description for a potential 70 hit tool, but Tapia has always inspired such flights of fancy from BP prospect writers, and this will likely be our last chance to write about him in these spaces. There also isn’t all that much to recommend past the hit tool. It’s a really fun hit tool. Well, he’s an above-average runner and won’t kill you in center field, and the approach at the plate has improved some over the years. He’ll now lay off the occasional slider down-and-away, even if he is surely thinking to himself that he could hit it.
The Bad: Tapia’s defensive profile fits best in a corner, and he’s not going to provide the kind of power you want in that spot. He has plus bat speed, but there isn’t much lift in the swing, so you are looking more at a 10-15 home run guy (before the Coors factor). His approach has improved, but he’s still very aggressive once he steps in the box. He’s been able to consistently make contact at every level so far because of his superior hand-eye, but it’s not all good contact, and there’s a chance it ends up “less contact” against major-league arms. He may be the least instinctual runner I have ever seen, which makes his speed play down on the basepaths.
The Risks: Tapia already got a cup of coffee, and if he gets crowded out of the Colorado outfield this spring, he may hit .400 in Albuquerque, but if he even only hits .280 in the majors, he’s just another second-division starter. The hit tool has to play to projection.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs has Tapia 5th in the system:
Tapia is one of the more entertaining player in the minor leagues because of his aggressive approach and funky pre-swing rituals. Of note, Tapia goes into an extreme crouch with two strikes, something for which I have an analytical disdain. We’ve explored the impact of altering eye level here before, and I’m flummoxed as to why Tapia essentially volunteers to do it to himself.
Scouts with whom I’ve spoken have plus or better grades on Tapia’s bat. He has sublime bat control and can either spoil or barrel just about any type of pitch in any location. I think Tapia extends early, which creates length to the ball, and that his ability to hit just about everything has led him to, you guessed it, try to hit everything. His walk rate has been anemic throughout his minor-league career.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Tapia’s profile is where he’ll ultimately fall on the defensive spectrum. He has 45 raw power right now and will probably have 50 raw at maturity, but his in-game approach is far more contact oriented and ground-ball heavy. He’ll likely max out at 40 game power. In a corner-outfield spot that won’t play, but it’d be fine in center field. As for his future in center, most scouts think Tapia will be average there at peak, as Tapia, though not particularly smooth, is a plus runner underway. I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to play in a big center field like Coors.
Despite my skepticism about the actualization of Tapia’s tools in the big leagues, he’s objectively likely to make some kind of major-league impact. At the very worst, he’s a relatively punchless .280 hitter who plays an above-average defensive corner outfield.
A full season of worst-case Tapia is probably a 45 on the scale and, while I think that’s in play as a Coors-independent outcome, the universal love of Tapia from my sources has buoyed his standing in my rankings. If he can either play center field or show more power/on-base ability than he has in the minors, then he’s an average regular.
Finally, John Sickels of Minor League Ball placed Tapia 6th in the system with an interesting angle as to Tapia’s best asset:
Best tool is speed, 60-grade; has some wiry strength but home run power won’t be a huge factor in his game; can handle center short-term but power would be stretched at a corner; could also use more patience to boost OBP but should hit for average.
If those scouting accolades weren’t enough, Baseball America ranked Tapia 4th in the system and named him the system’s best hitter for average and notably the best defensive outfielder. Wouldn’t that be something?
Obviously the Raimel Tapia Rockies fans saw in his 2016 MLB cameo wasn’t the player described above—not yet, anyway. There really are a wide range of potential outcomes with an exciting player like Tapia. He could be an All-Star outfielder 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. He could be something in between or he could do nothing more than he did last September.
Tapia used his first minor league option in 2016, so they have some flexibility with him as he enters Spring Training behind a plethora of lefty-hitting outfielders. Tapia’s definitely a player to watch this spring to see if he can carve out a role for himself on the big league club. I tend to think that Tapia will eventually be able to hit over .300 at the major league level as an everyday player, albeit without a lot of power. I ranked Tapia fifth on my ballot with a 55 Future Value because I think he'll be an above average major-league outfielder, as well as a potential batting champion.