Tapia catches veterans' eyes with batting style

Rockies outfield prospect aggressive, successful at the plate

Tapia catches veterans' eyes with batting style

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies No. 7 prospect Raimel Tapia doesn't have to be shy about approaching veteran players in his first Major League camp. The left-handed hitting outfielder displayed such a unique and effective batting style that older players enjoy talking to him.

He went 0-for-2 in Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Dodgers.

A .314 hitter in 449 games in the Rockies' system, Tapia, 22, is carrying a .368 batting average with two doubles and a triple in 19 at-bats over 11 Spring Training games. No wonder Carlos Gonzalez, Gerardo Parra and Nolan Arenado are willing to talk hitting with him.

"I get to know guys with a lot of experience, like CarGo, Parra, Arenado. They're always helping me, giving me tips," Tapia said in Spanish, with relief prospect Carlos Estevez interpreting. "It's been happening both ways. I ask them. Then they come to me right away and let me know when I'm doing something wrong. That's why I feel confidence. I can ask whatever I want from those guys."

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After two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Tapia, from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, announced his arrival as a prospect in 2013 by leading the Rookie-level Pioneer League with a .357 batting average and leading all short-season Minor Leaguers with 92 hits. Tapia followed that up with a .326 average at Class A Asheville in 2014 and .305 at Class A Advanced Modesto last year.

The solid hitting earned Tapia a spot on the Rockies' 40-man Major League roster over the winter. The logical progression would be for him to start the season at Double-A Hartford, but his bat could take him further, quickly.

"He's got a knack to hit, that's for sure," manager Walt Weiss said. "He's one of those natural hitters that can barrel up the baseball. He can run. He's an exciting player. He can do a lot of things."

Listed at 6-2 and 160 pounds, Tapia looks like he's got plenty of growing to do. But he hits a lot older than he looks. He begins counts with aggression, but has a solid eye, as evidenced by his .363 career on-base percentage.

His two-strike approach is eye-catching. He spreads his feet and lowers to a squat. As spring started the crouch was not much higher than the catcher. Tapia is slightly higher now, but it's his adjustment, not one given by coaches.

"His whole thing is taking a little bit off and putting the ball in play, but the kid is so wiry strong he's knocking them off the wall, even, with two strikes," hitting coach Blake Doyle said. "The kid puts bat through the zone as well as anybody, he's just a hitter. You don't mess with that. It may look a little unconventional, but right now unconventional works."

It didn't result in a hit Sunday. Tapia chased a low-and-outside pitch and fanned against Dodgers righty prospect Jharel Cotton. He reached two strikes three pitches in against Matt West in the ninth inning, but ran the at-bat to eight pitches before grounding to first to end the game.

West earns the save

"I always go to the plate confident and aggressive, always looking for the pitch that I want," Tapia said. "I'm always swinging at pitches that look like the one I'm looking for."

Tapia, who prefers center field but plays all three outfield positions, does not concern himself with power. He has 29 homers in 1,768 professional at-bats.

"I'm a line-drive hitter," he said. "I can bunt, too. But if a home run comes up, that's fine. But I'm going to stick to the line drive.

"It feels really close, but I can't stop working. I can't stop playing. I've got to continue. Then when I get there, I want to stay there."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.