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Rockies top prospect Raimel Tapia had up and down year

As in, up and down I-25.

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.

No. 39, Raimel Tapia (-0.7 rWAR)

Raimel Tapia began 2017 as one of the top prospects in the Colorado Rockies system and had an outside shot at making a real impact on the major league club. By the end of the season he had made six trips from Triple-A Albuquerque to the Rockies, twice for no more than 10 days.

On one hand, it’s a compliment to his stupendous play in the Pacific Coast League. In 263 at bats, he hit .369/.397/.529, racking up 97 hits in just 58 games. On the other hand, it raises questions about how the Rockies plan on using Tapia going forward. To get a better idea, consider his call-ups.

Call-up No. 1: April 14, 2017

Team games: 3

Tapia: 0-for-7, 1 K, 2 starts

Raimel’s first opportunity of 2017 came thanks to fellow outfielder Gerardo Parra welcoming a new baby to his family. As such, it was a brief stint: two games in San Francisco, two starts in left field, zero hits. When Parra’s paternity leave was up, so was Tapia’s time in the bigs.

Optioned: April 18, 2017

Call-up No. 2: May 12, 2017

Team games: 10

Tapia: 0-for-5, BB, 4 K, 1 start

In the month he spent with Albuquerque he hit a cool .398/.419/.578 in 18 games, so it was a bit of a surprise when Tapia rarely found himself in the starting lineup after getting called up. At the time, Ian Desmond was making his way back into the regular lineup (“If I could’ve known then what I know now”), so it was defensible, if not optimal. After being called up at Jeff Hoffman’s expense, Jeff Hoffman was called up at his expense.

Optioned: May 22, 2017

Call-up No. 3: June 6, 2017

Team games: 37

Tapia: 20 starts, 32-for-90, 2 HR, 7 2B, 2 3B, .356/.404/.544

Third time was the charm for Raimel, and it took yet another Baby Rockie to get him back to the roster (this time it was Alexi Amarista). It took a long time for him to get a starting gig but when he did, he made some of us wonder if he should ever lose it. He had the first walk-off hit of the season and, the following Sunday, had a rally-starting pinch hit that led to a historic ending. He even came a single short of the cycle on July 3. Over the month plus, Raimel got 20 starts, filling in first for an injured Carlos Gonzalez then an injured Desmond, including nine in around and 19 of 25 at one point.

One might think this would be enough to earn Tapia a regular gig. Unfortunately, healthy veterans spelled the end for Tapia’s regular playing time. He would start multiple days in a row just two other times the rest of the season.

Optioned: July 18, 2017

Call-up No. 4: July 29, 2017

Team Games: 10

Tapia: 4 starts, 3-for-20, BB, 6 K

In advance of a doubleheader in Washington, the Rockies called up Tapia, who started both games; he went 2-for-9 with a double. A week later, he started both games in Cleveland, first as a DH, then as a right fielder. In between, he had four-pinch hit appearances. Somewhat bizarrely, Ryan McMahon was (deservedly) called up and displaced Tapia from the roster, though got into just four games, two starts.

Optioned: August 11, 2017

Call-up No. 5: August 22, 2017

Team Games: 7

Tapia: 3 starts, 2-for-13

At this point it Tapia’s role began to crystallize: extra bat in American League ballpark. He started every game in the series in Kansas City, though did not fare too well. Between call ups he hit .421/.439/.605 in 41 plate appearances for the Isotopes; his time racking up frequent flyer miles was not affecting his play there. All the same, he was sent back at the conclusion of the Rockies’ road trip to make room for Ian Desmond.

Optioned: August 28, 2017

Call-up No. 6: September 7, 2017

Team Games: 22

Tapia: 2 starts, 9-for-25

After the conclusion of the Triple-A season, Tapia was summoned back to the major league roster. Fighting tooth-and-nail for the final National League playoff spot, manager Bud Black said that September would not be a time for young players to play, but for them to just get regular experience. As such, Tapia was mostly used as a pinch-hitter and only received two starts, the second of which came on the last day of the regular season.

2018 Outlook

It’s not often a team’s top prospect wears a path between Triple-A and the majors without getting regular playing time at the top level. When he did get a regular chance to contribute, he offered enough production to make Rockies fans dream of a lineup with him at the top of it. When the veterans were healthy, though, Tapia rarely got any more playing time, and his production suffered because of it. With Carlos Gonzalez unlikely to return, Tapia will probably stay on the 25-man roster for the duration of the season. Whether he’ll have enough starting opportunity in Bud Black’s outfield remains to be seen.