Rockies’ Raimel Tapia, more disciplined at the plate, eyes a batting title
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Raimel Tapia is full of surprises.
He showed up at Rockies spring training with his flowing dreadlocks colored platinum blonde.
Back on July 20, 2018, against Diamondbacks ace reliever Archie Bradley, the wiry Tapia hit a two-out, pinch-hit, seventh-inning grand slam in Colorado’s 11-10 victory. On Sept. 27, 2019, vs. Milwaukee, he launched another pinch-hit grand slam, making him the only player in franchise history with two slams in the pinch.
Last season, Tapia, previously considered something of an undisciplined free swinger, hit .321, leading the Rockies and finishing seventh in the National League.
This season, Tapia has set his sights on a batting crown.
“I’m going after it,” he said.
To which manager Bud Black responded: “I wouldn’t put it past him … I wouldn’t count him out.”
In other words, the Rockies have ceased being surprised at what the 26-year-old outfielder can do.
The plan is for Tapia to play left field and be the leadoff hitter, a role he embraced last season when he led off in 34 of the Rockies’ 60 games, hitting .326 from that spot, third-highest in the NL. From Aug. 16-Sept. 6, he reached base in a career-high 19 consecutive games, slashing .356/.442/.479 over that span.
“(Tapia) came out in a position of need and really was a good leadoff hitter — super-competitive in the box,” said right fielder Charlie Blackmon, the former leadoff hitter who won the 2017 batting title.
“That might be Tap’s best quality — he’s just hard to get out,” Blackmon added.
Not that all of Tapia’s surprises have always been welcome. He has been prone to taking curious routes on flyballs and line drives to the outfield. His throws into the infield could be head-scratchers. Black, however, has seen steady improvement in all aspects of Tapia’s game.
“It’s a continual process here in the major leagues, and there’s been incremental progress,” Black said. “Repetitions, practice, all the things that our outfield coaches do with ‘Tap’ are helping. It’s something he continues to focus on.”
In fact, improving his defense topped Tapia’s priority list during the offseason.
“I understand hitting is very important, but you know, I take a lot of pride in my defense,” he said. “Especially this offseason, I really focused on throwing to the bases working on my routes. And I understand that a Gold Glove is another goal of mine and I know it’s not something to overlook.”
At the plate, Tapia has always handled the bat well, even when he had a tendency to chase pitches out of the zone. Beginning with his rookie-ball season in Grand Junction in 2013, Tapia hit .300 or better during every minor-league campaign.
Part of the reason is Tapia’s exceptional hand-eye coordination. According to a study by Dr. Amanda Hoelscher of the Key Whitman Eye Center in Dallas-Fort Worth, “Eighty-one percent of major league baseball players have visual acuity of 20/15 or better. So they can resolve the image of that pitch much better than most of the population.”
Tapia’s vision is 20/13.
“I was just really blessed with it,” he said.
Tapia, a left-handed hitter, has tinkered with his swing for most of his career, but he seems to have found his comfort zone.
“It was pretty evident that he was pretty confident in what he was doing last year,” Black said. “He tailed off the last couple of weeks and maybe wasn’t quite as selective at the plate, but he really settled in. He used his bat-to-ball skills and really used the whole field.”
Tapia can send balls deep into the seats during batting practice but he gets himself into trouble when he tries too hard to hit home runs during a game. He’s since tempered his approach.
While his average and on-base percentage climbed last year, he homered just once, that after smacking nine in 2019, including an inside-the-parker.
“It’s a really good feeling knowing that I know what type of hitter I am, and they know what type of hitter I am,” Tapia said.
He’s always been a confident player but he needed consistent playing time to show what he could do. He got that last year when Ian Desmond opted out because of the pandemic. Tapia ended up playing in 51 of Colorado’s 60 games.
“The biggest difference is that when I wasn’t playing (consistently), I was (putting) more pressure on myself, to show what I could do,” he said. “When I started playing more I was able to relax more at the plate and show what I was capable of doing.”
Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia has become a more disciplined hitter over the past three seasons, even though it’s meant a reduction in power.
Source: Baseball Reference
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