The Situation: The Rockies don't really need another outfielder on the roster. Their best outfield prospect, David Dahl, is already up and raking, and Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez have acquitted themselves well for the purple and black in 2016. But the calendar has turned to September, and the Rockies don't even merit a spot “in the hunt” on wild card race graphics, so why not give Raimel Tapia and his quirky swing a look-see.
The Background: A low-six figure signing for the Rockies out of the Dominican in 2010, Tapia quite literally has hit his way to the majors. Once stateside he never hit lower than .305 at any minor-league stop and has been a mainstay on BP prospect lists since Jason Parks first laid his lusty eyes on him on the backfields. The main question around the prospect was if his hyper-aggressive approach and unorthodox swing mechanics would succeed against better pitching. The returns from his stints in Hartford and Albuquerque are encouraging and have earned the 22-year-old a big-league cup of coffee
Scouting Report: The first thing you notice about Tapia is his swing. It has been written about at length on this site already. It shouldn't work, but it does, time after time. Barrel meets ball. The exaggerated two-strike crouch is less effective, more affectation, but his combination of bat speed and barrel control means he can hit any pitch in any count. Too often, Tapia has tried to hit every pitch in any count, but during my looks in Double-A, he showed an improved approach, a better idea of which bad balls he can actually do some damage to. He only walked two times in 110 Pacific Coast League plate appearances, but if I was Raimel Tapia hitting in Albuquerque, I wouldn't be that eager to walk either. Major-league arms might be able to exploit this aggressiveness, but we've said the same about Tapia at each subsequent level of the minors, and no level of arm has…yet.
Now the familiar refrain that follows on Tapia, and the one that kept him from being an elite prospect when he was in the minors: He's going to have to hit. Despite outstanding bat speed, Tapia doesn't lift the ball that much and the power projects as fringy at best. That would be fine if he was a slam dunk center fielder, but Tapia is only an average runner, and while his instincts in the outfield have improved, he may be a better fit in left. He is one of worst baserunners I have ever seen, and his speed plays down on the bases due to what I can politely describe as ponderous decision-making. “Randomly aggressive” also works as a descriptor. But don't think too much about that, go watch that swing again.
Immediate Big League Future: This feels more like a reward for a job well done in 2016, than a move to get Tapia significant playing time as Colorado plays out the string. A month with the team will allow him to get a taste of major league baseball, a few starts here and there, and maybe a tantalizing taste of what he could offer the team in 2017. Of course the same outfield logjam will still exist, but as problems go, there are worse ones to have. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Fantasy Take: Blessed with a preternatural hit tool, catalyzed by elite hand-eye coordination and bat speed, the 22-year-old outfielder has displayed a propensity to barrel pretty much anything opposing pitchers have thrown at him, regardless of location, throughout his minor-league career. Legitimate questions regarding his defensive flexibility, future power potential and whether his extremely aggressive approach at the plate would be exploited against advanced pitchers in the upper minors have gradually transformed the Dominican Republic native into one of the most polarizing prospects in fantasy baseball over the past few seasons.
Tapia appears to have temporarily addressed those concerns at the plate by hitting a robust .328/.361/.458 with 43 extra-base hits (eight home runs) and just 61 strikeouts in 567 plate appearances between Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque this season. It remains to be seen whether his ultra-aggressive approach ultimately proves to be sustainable against major-league caliber pitching. However, given his immense raw talent, Tapia’s profiles long-term as a dynamic leadoff man, capable of hitting .300-plus annually. He has the potential to legitimately compete for batting title in Coors Field if he reaches his ceiling.
From a fantasy perspective, if it all comes together, Tapia could develop into a three or four-category contributor capable of buoying a fantasy team in batting average. It may be unrealistic to expect him to produce more than 10-12 home runs annually, even in Colorado, but he does have the ability to swipe 15-20 bases, which has tremendous value in today’s fantasy landscape. Given the depth of options in the Rockies outfield, his immediate fantasy outlook over the next month isn’t as promising as his long-term future due to playing time concerns, but he’s the type of unique talent that should be owned in all formats. –George Bissell
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