Young standout: Tapia brings flair to Rockies

Club's No. 4 prospect making 'a good impression' in Majors with speed, style

Young standout: Tapia brings flair to Rockies

DENVER -- Outfielder Raimel Tapia captured Rockies fans' imaginations long before he arrived in the Majors on Sept. 2 and caught their eye.

It wasn't just his .328 combined batting average at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque this year, or his .317 batting average since signing with the organization just shy of his 17th birthday. The praise from club officials and eyewitness accounts along his Minor League journey previewed a treat.

Tapia, 22, has hit .276 with a .313 on-base percentage in 32 plate appearances over 12 games with the Rockies. In his six starts, mostly when center fielder Charlie Blackmon was nursing back soreness, he has hit .292 with a .333 OBP and flashed a signature look and style. He wears a baggy jersey, and at 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds, his No. 68 engulfs his back. Without a cap or helmet, he reveals plaited hair, dyed blond.

Tapia's two-run double

Loose, active hands produce a quick swing that comes from different stances -- somewhat conventional until there are two strikes, when he crouches almost as low as the catcher. In Spring Training, before the rigors of the season, Tapia was lacing balls to the gaps for extra bases against Major League pitchers, the way he did throughout the Minor League year.

"He's a bit unconventional, but he's got great bat-to-ball skills, great hand-eye coordination," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "There is some power there that's going to continue to improve. He's a dynamic player, runs well. He's made a good impression up here."

Let's get to know the Rockies' No. 4 prospect -- as ranked by -- who spoke in Spanish through an interpreter but is gaining confidence in English:

• Growing up in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, Tapia had no shortage of baseball influences.

"I had three brothers that signed and played baseball as well: Rafael Tapia, Antonio Linares and Jose Linares," Tapia said. "They didn't play in the Majors, but they helped me a lot. One of them, Antonio, has a Little League in the Dominican, and all of my brothers helped me.

"Alfonso Soriano [a .270 hitter in the Majors from 1999-2014] helped me a lot. He's very close with my brother, and he lives close to my house in the Dominican, and when I'm at home, he works with me."

• The crouch with two strikes is unusual, although it's based on solid principles -- short at the beginning, long through the zone. And to his relief and the credit of the Rockies, no one tried to change him when he started using it in the Dominican Summer League in 2011.

"They would always give me little tips of just things I could do differently but never told me to change my approach," he said. "I keep my approach the same, just use little tips here and there to adjust."

Tapia's run-scoring single

• Even with all his pro baseball influences from his brothers and Soriano, Tapia struggled with proper nutrition when he came to the U.S. for Rookie ball in 2013 -- when he was named TOPPS Pioneer League Player of the Year after hitting .357 at Grand Junction.

"They taught me to always play hard and follow what you want to do," Tapia said. "But they didn't teach me to cook. I didn't know when I came over. I learned recently -- rice and meat. And I eat salads and vegetables sometimes."

• Tapia played more center field (284 appearances) than the corners (148 in left, 124 in right) in the Minors. With his defense behind his hitting, he saw time in left in Spring Training. But throughout the season he made center his home. Blackmon's injury gave him the opportunity to flash the speed that helps his offense and could give him above-average range once comfortable in the Majors.

"I worked very hard in the Dominican, with the coaches in Arizona, in Double-A and in Triple-A," he said. "I worked a lot with everyone just to better my defense and hopefully get up to the big leagues and be able to showcase that -- just seeing the angles better, being ready and seeing the ball."

Tapia's trip along the bases

• With left-handed-hitting outfielders Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, David Dahl (another rookie) and Gerardo Parra already with the Rockies, it's uncertain where Tapia fits. No doubt other teams would want to pry him away. But that's not his worry.

"I know I have a good chance, because when you have a right-handed pitcher, you want a left-handed batter, so there are better chances. But other than that, I don't think about it very much."

• Don't order those No. 68 TAPIA jerseys. If he has his way, he won't wear it long.

"I like the number 15. It's my favorite," Tapia said. "I wore No. 15 when I was younger, through the Dominican when I was younger."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. 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.