Today we continue our top five Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) for the midseason 2017. Last week we revealed prospects 30-26, then prospects 25-21, prospects 20-16, prospects 15-11, and Monday prospects 10-6. Yesterday, Peter Lambert entered the top five. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 40 ballots were cast, with 30 points granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc.
For each player on the PuRPs list, I'll include a link to individual stats (via Baseball-Reference), PuRPs voting stats, contract status (via Rockies Roster), a note on the 2017 season to date, and a scouting report from a national prospect writer. For what it's worth, I'll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. All ages are as of the time the article was posted.
4. Raimel Tapia (1,084 points, 39 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 4 — High Ballot 2, Mode Ballot 3
How did he enter the organization?
2010 Amateur Free Agent (Dominican Republic)
Why did he make the PuRPs list?
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), the 23-year-old lefty outfielder is a career .320/.364/.451 hitter over seven minor league seasons. Tapia has played in 619 minor league games to date and has 796 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.
Last year Tapia played at Double A, Triple A, and MLB. At the two minor league levels, he hit a combined .328/.361/.458 in 567 plate appearances — a fact made more impressive by the fact that his April triple slash last year was just .217/.277/.333. Tapia’s 41 PA MLB cup of coffee was less impressive (.263/.293/.263), but but he played a credible center in Coors Field a few times and got that valuable MLB experience coming into 2017, establishing himself as outfield depth for the big league club.
This year, Tapia came out of the gate in Albuquerque hot, hitting .389/.436/.611 in April for the Isotopes. Unfortunately, that didn’t initially transfer over to the big club, where in two cameos across April and May Tapia failed to record a hit in 13 plate appearances. Recalled again in June due to injuries and given a chance to play more often, Tapia hit .364/.417/.509 in 60 Major League PAs, good for a 128 wRC+.
In all this year, Tapia is .349/.383/.503 (127 wRC+) in 206 Albuquerque PAs and .306/.358/.468 (98 wRC+) for the Rockies in 121 PAs. The Major League success has been fueled by a .372 BABIP and the K% is at a career high 19% this season, but the BABIP is in line with Tapia’s career average and he’s taking (slightly) more walks at 5.8% than he has since Low A ball.
What do the scouts say?
Tapia began the year on the top 100 lists of Baseball America (49), Baseball Prospectus (42), Keith Law of ESPN.com (58), and MLB.com (90) — so it’s safe to say scouts were tuned into his potential. Baseball America’s midseason top 100 (released right before he lost his prospect status) also included Tapia (at 63). BP has had Tapia on its top 100 for the last four years now.
Tapia was 2nd overall in 2080 Baseball’s system rank preseason, getting a role 55 grade with a 60 ceiling:
The Tools: 65 hit; 60 run; 55 arm; 50 field – Tapia is a pure hitter, utilizing quality bat speed and elite bat-to-ball feel to square up balls consistently and spray line drives to all fields. The power plays below average due to a lack of over-the-fence pop, but he should be able to rack up extra bases given his plus speed and ability to drive the gaps. The skillset is there for Tapia to mature into a quality center fielder, though his arm could also play in right field.
Though long in his load an unorthodox in his low two-strike setup, Tapia has a quick bat and line drive swing plane that keeps the barrel in the zone for a long time and offers a wide contact window. He can sting the ball to the gaps and makes hard enough contact to get to double-digit home runs at maturity, as well. The aggressive approach eats into his on-base value some, forcing the overall hit tool to play down some from its lofty ceiling, but there’s little doubt he’ll hit for average.
Though a plus runner, Tapia can struggle to cover adequate ground in center field due to his still-developing reads and routes ... On the bases he is a better runner once underway than he is taking off, with his inconsistent jumps and reads limiting his effectiveness as a would-be basestealer.
Notwithstanding the slightly depressed on-base profile, Tapia could hit for enough average alone to emerge as a top-of-the-order bat, perhaps slotting best in the two-hole as a high-contact stick who can put pressure on the defense with his speed. He should do enough damage for the bat to play on a corner, even without traditional power numbers for a right fielder, and there’s still a chance the Colorado environs help him reach higher home run totals than his profile would otherwise suggest.
Tapia also ranked 2nd in the Baseball Prospectus Rockies list preseason, garnering a 50 likely role and 60 ceiling from them:
The Good: [Flowery description of hit tool] 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.
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?
Here’s some video of Tapia from the 2015 Arizona Fall League courtesy of FanGraphs:
When's he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he's there?
Though Tapia has now exceeded the service time threshold to be a prospect, it’s clear that he’s a developing player who the Rockies see as an important part of their future success. 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. More likely he falls somewhere in between — a league average regular who can play all three outfield positions.
Tapia has used two minor league options, allowing the Rockies to use him flexibly among Colorado’s plethora of outfield options over the last couple of years. I tend to think that Tapia will eventually be able to hit over .300 at the major league level (he’s doing that now) as an everyday player (not quite yet), albeit without a lot of power (I’ll take the .468 SLG he’s posted this year). I ranked Tapia 3rd on my ballot with a 55 Future Value in his prospect swan song because I think he'll ultimately be an above average major-league outfielder, as well as a potential batting champion.
★ ★ ★
We’ll have the prospect who just edged out Tapia for the number three spot later today.