SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfield prospect Raimel Tapia's job this spring is to prove he is ready, even if he's not needed.
Tapia, 23, who is the No. 90 prospect and one of five Rockies on the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects, batted a combined .328 with a .361 on-base percentage at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque last season. The performance earned him a 22-game look-see in the Majors during which he hit .263 with a .293 OBP in 41 plate appearances.
The Rockies value Tapia, who has put the barrel on balls throughout his Minor League career and has a unique crouch stance with two strikes. But, although he is close to ready, he appears blocked by a strong outfield that has veteran Gerardo Parra and last year's rookie sensation David Dahl competing in left field. And there is veteran Chris Denorfia in camp under a Minor League deal, and Jordan Patterson and Mike Tauchman also hoping for big league duty.
Also, Tapia is in a difficult squeeze. Even if his performance warrants 25-man roster inclusion, there is a strong argument to send him to Triple-A for regular at-bats rather than have him live off the morsels of opportunities a bench player may receive in the Majors. But he can't relax, because if injuries to frontliners mount, he has to be ready for starting duty.
"Just keep working hard," Tapia said in Spanish. "If I am in the Minor Leagues, I'll be happy there and just keep seeing the ball and working with my teammates. And if I get the callup, just keep working hard to help the big league team and working with my teammates there. But be prepared, no matter what."
Tapia, listed at 6-foot-2, is a lefty hitter who -- like Dahl -- has been groomed throughout his pro career to hit left-handed pitchers as well as righties. Considered a work in progress defensively, Tapia played all three spots last season and was smooth during his late-season Major League trial. He appears slightly more muscular than last year, and says he weighs roughly 180 pounds.
New manager Bud Black said, "I want to see him play. He's a gifted player. He can do a lot of things. It's a body that's rather thin and maybe not quite filled out, but he's got some strength in his swing, he's got speed, he's got good hands.