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Scouting the California League: Raimel Tapia, Rosell Herrera, and other notes from Modesto

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Reports on several of the more notable Rockies prospects toiling away in the badlands of California this spring

Converted centerfielder Rosell Herrera is one of the more raw players dotting the prospect-laden Modesto roster
Converted centerfielder Rosell Herrera is one of the more raw players dotting the prospect-laden Modesto roster
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I caught the Colorado Rockies farm team the Modesto Nuts for a second series last weekend at Inland Empire, and I can confirm they're one of the more interesting teams around. There's a lot of ceiling on the squad, and a lot of distance for most of the players to cover if they're going to reach those ceilings. I was bummed that Jordan Patterson hit the DL right before the series, as he'd shown an intriguing if over-aggressive corner bat profile in an earlier look, and any time you see that kind of skill set in the Rockies' system it's worth paying attention to.

Raimel Tapia, OF

I wrote up my initial impressions of Tapia a couple weeks ago after an early season series against Lancaster, and with a few more looks under my belt now he’s a player I feel more comfortable discussing at length. Tapia remains a beanpole of a man. He’s not much if any bigger than his listed 6’2", 160 pounds, and while his frame is capable of adding some bulk it’s likely to be of the wiry strength variety. Filled out he might be able to push 180 without compromising athleticism, and it’s unclear if he’ll ever develop the pure physical strength to allow for more than an average raw power tool. I wouldn’t comfortably project him for more than 45 game power in a best-case scenario.

But man, can he hit. I won’t spend too much time on the nitty gritty of how he does it, because it’s such a unique attack that it defies a lot of standard mechanical analysis. But I’ll reiterate that he’s one of the most interesting hitters I’ve ever watched, both in terms of approach and how he executes his swing. Just watching him off the cuff it’s easy to come away with the impression that he’s a mess of moving parts, unnecessary length, and uncontrolled aggression. That’s not really the case at all, though.

Discussing his stance really requires two separate discussions entirely, one for his normal approach and one for his two-strike approach. You can see in the video a very obvious change in approach at two strikes: he takes his already-wide base, kicks it out another notch, and crouches down exceptionally low. He changes his toe tap and weight transfer mechanisms, and adds more length to his load.

What stays consistent, however, is a remarkable ability to manipulate the barrel with this hands and wrists and attack the point of contact with precision. He’s a smart hitter in addition to his impressive physical gifts. You can see discernable differences in how he delivers the bat head into the zone depending on what he’s trying to do with the pitch; sometimes he’ll load up on a firm front side and look to drive the ball with extended separation. Other times he’ll stay shorter and steeper into the zone looking to work the other way.

He’s shown some vulnerability to spin in my looks, though it appears more a product of aggressiveness in approach rather than difficulty diagnosing pitches. He projects self-confidence in his ability to hit any and everything thrown his way, and it can get him into trouble. He’ll expand the zone ahead and behind, and regardless of innate hitting talent that’s never a particularly good recipe for success.

Still, he shows an ability to square pitches anywhere within or around the zone, with a line drive approach that is among the best I’ve seen in the California League. I’ll hang a 65 on his future nuts and bolts hit tool, though the aggressiveness of his approach won’t allow him to get there against more advanced arms without some significant refinement as he moves up the ladder. Let’s call it a 60 with the built-in potential for more.

Despite the innate hitting ability, there is still a long way to go in Tapia’s development, as the rest of his games remains quite raw. In the field he begins pre-pitch from a crouch just as wide and nearly as low as his two-strike batting stance, glove to the ground like an infielder. It’s not a setup conducive to maximizing out-of-the-block quickness at all, and I’d estimate the slow start-up alone costs him a step or two on plays where he gets to full speed. It’s not an insignificant handicap, and the closing speed isn’t a plus asset to where he makes up for some of the deficit later on, either.

I’ve also seen him make multiple late breaks from both center and left field now, indicating his feel for reading opposing contact remains a weak point in his game. Combined with foot speed that’s not quite as fast as you’d expect given his body type, it leaves him showing a below-average fielding tool at present. To be sure, there’s ample athleticism here, and it’s obviously worth remembering that he’s young for the level by a couple of years. I don’t really see a centerfield future here, but I can see him grading out to a future 50 corner glove eventually with proper dedication. He does not show as a natural defensive talent, however, and there’s a notable gap between his present skills and that projection.

It’s more of the same on the bases, where he lacks impact speed and shows rough edges in his decision-making and approach. There’s no glaring weakness here, just a bunch of small deficiencies at present that add up to a merely solid-average profile. The raw speed is probably somewhere around a 55, though he finishes consistently long and tends to check up, so it’s difficult to get a truly representative clock on him to first. One 4.18 on a relatively clean, full dig is the best I’ve been able to do, and intuitively that seems about right.

His leads off first base are choppy, with inconsistent timing pitch to pitch. I’ve seen two stolen base attempts now, one an excellent anticipatory jump and the other a jerky release with a poor cross-over. He extends to his final lead late, which accounts for some of the inconsistency. Off second base he takes an extremely shallow line, staying barely a step removed from the infield grass and creating a poor angle from which to attack third and score on a base hit.

The decision-making can be less than stellar as well. On Saturday he was thrown out at home after an ill-advised attempt to score from second on a double-play ball. None of these things are fatal flaws by any means; most are coachable, fixable issues that are part of the normal developmental process. There are a lot of them, though, and taken in sum they paint the picture of a player who is developmentally still very much a work in progress.

Ultimately Tapia’s present game makes for a good reminder that while players who find statistical success at a young age relative to their competition are notable among prospects, such success doesn’t always mean the player is more advanced than the competition of that level. Tapia’s hit tool is likely good enough to force the issue for fast-track development. But this is a player who in an ideal world would be more of a level-a-year player, a slow-burning raw talent who evolves over time into a well-rounded, mature baseball player.

There’s too much distance here between present and future potential to project an impact future, but the baseline hitting skill is such that he could very well develop that way. It’s likely to be a while ‘til he does though, and the jump to AA will be an especially telling one in his case.

Rosell Herrera, CF

I’ll start by saying that the former left-side infielder is a really entertaining player to watch. The best comp I can give you for his game is young Willie Mays Hays (the Wesley Snipes version, obviously), right down to the histrionics and exaggerated mannerisms in the batter’s box and abundant swagger and enthusiasm in his movements all over the rest of the field. His 6’3", 180 pound frame is long and lean, with an athletic, rhythmic gait and long running strides. He’s clearly a guy who enjoys playing the game of baseball.

In the batter’s box there’s a whole lot of lightning and, occasionally, some thunder too. I’ve only managed to see him hit left-handed thus far, and when he does he starts his hands high to his left ear, back elbow cocked to 90 degrees pre-pitch with a pronounced bat waggle. There’s a whole lot of extraneous movement in what happens next, starting with an exceedingly long takeaway in his load as he moves his hands a good foot back while he works up a ton of torque with his wrist cock. There’s ample opportunity just in that progression for things to go awry quickly, as the tension forced by his hand and wrist positioning leaves him with a thin margin for error to keep the bat progressing on line and into the correct launch position.

He utilizes a substantial leg kick in his lower half, meanwhile, and his balance in deploying it wavers significantly from pitch to pitch. At times he’ll keep his hand level on line while he lunges the lower half forward, resulting in a handsy swing with a steep bat path. But when he’s looking to drive the ball there’s an extra notch of length as his hands bob up at separation and the back elbow kicks up north of 90 degrees, causing the swing path to get longer and rounder.

All of this is to say that he lacks the consistency of a repeatable swing, and minus the kind of freakish hand-eye coordination of a guy like Tapia it’s just not a strong offensive baseline. He generates solid bat speed with good hip rotation and wrist strength, and he can lay into a pitch with impressive force when he does make contact and square a ball. There might even be legitimately above-average raw power in there, and he hit an absolute bomb at Inland Empire on Saturday when he guessed right and got a mistake fastball. But I see the tool ultimately playing down to a 40 or 45 in-game projection on account of contact and approach issues.

His balance against off-speed pitches was a notable deficit, and it’s an area where he’s likely to get eaten alive at higher levels. His timing is consistently geared towards fastball speed, and when he doesn’t get one there are just so many moving parts that making an on-the-fly adjustment becomes a tall task. The questions about his timing and ability to execute his swing consistently are significant enough that I have a hard time seeing his hit tool make it to 50.

In the field Herrera’s conversion to centerfield is off to a rocky start. His angles and reads on balls remain quite raw, and his footwork in gathering the ball and positioning himself to throw on the move was notably poor. He has the athleticism and above-average, possibly plus foot speed to project above-average fielding ability, and he showed a strong arm that may very well work as a plus asset in left or center with better fielding control. But especially given the late start to his outfield career his defensive skillset lags significantly below the level at present.

Overall it’s still a quite raw package, and he makes for a high risk prospect. There isn’t a standout plus tool in the shed, so he’ll need to hit the high end of his development profile pretty much across the board if he’s going to project a useful Major League future. And he’s got a ways to go in doing that.

Other notes:

As with Tapia I talked a bit about my first impressions of Ryan McMahon a couple weeks back, and they’ve only gotten stronger since, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. I’d like another couple looks at him in the box before revisiting his offense in greater depth, but the defensive profile has ticked up for me. He sets himself with solid balance and preparation pre-pitch, with a slight rock towards the plate priming him well to maximize his first-step quickness. His range won’t be elite, but he has the length and above-average athleticism to cover ample ground for the position.

The most impressive aspect of the profile is his body control in making plays on the run. I’ve seen him make several strong plays on balls in front of him now, including a spectacular bare-hand effort in which he pivoted mid-launch and whirled a strike around his left shoulder to second to secure a force out. His raw velocity is more solid-average, but the arm plays up to a 55 thanks to strong accuracy and a demonstrated ability to harness the movement on his throws from different arm angles.

He shows as a good make-up kid with a dedication to improvement on defense in practice, and I think there’s a 55 defender here assuming a standard development path. Given the offensive potential here an above-average defensive profile would give him a first-division projection with All-Star ceiling at the Major League level.

2014 eighth-rounder Harrison Musgrave has performed well out of the gate in California after skipping to the age-appropriate level from Rookie ball. He had Tommy John surgery back in 2012 and showed well in a hundred innings as a red-shirt sophomore at WVU after coming back, earning Pitcher of the Year honors in the Big 12. At a listed 6’1", 205 pounds he’s got a solid, well-proportioned frame to hang 200 innings on, highlighted by strong, thick legs. The southpaw’s delivery gives the appearance of some effort, mostly due to the speed with which he unleashes it. He uses a very low hand break, keeping the ball tucked off his back hip while he draws his right leg up abruptly. His leg kick is stiff to a rigid plant, and he really whips his arm through his release before a long deceleration through his front side, with a bit of a spin off to the third base side.

It’s not a particularly fluid delivery, and there are some timing and balance concerns as a result which may limit his command development. He showed fringe to solid-average control of a four-pitch arsenal, including a fastball that sat 87-89 (t90), a slider in the 86-87 range, a low-80’s change, and a curveball with decent depth in the high 70’s. There isn’t a plus offering of the bunch, though the curve showed as a potential 55 pitch. But he mixed his pitches well and showed a willingness to attack hitters to both sides of the plate. I’d peg him as a future 45 arm, with some upside to a number four starter if the command progresses.

Modesto catcher Wilfredo Rodriguez has an interesting mix of skills, but I'm not sure if they'll end up working together the right way for him to carve out a big league career. The Puerto Rican former seventh-rounder has a stocky frame at 5’10", 200 pounds that belies impressive agility behind the plate. He shows soft hands in his receiving, with a quiet glove and minimal movement to the pitch. He struggled some with his blocking technique on off-speed pitches in the dirt, but it wasn’t a product of being slow to get down. He’s not shy about throwing the ball around, showing a willingness to throw behind runners and pick back. His arm strength isn’t quite a plus tool though, and he’ll need to develop well above-average footwork and maximize its utility to play at the highest level.

At the plate he shows a solid contact-oriented stroke, with a short bat path and minimal leverage. He’ll collapse his back side when he tries to drive the ball, so it’s unclear if he’ll ever hit for much power. But he showed a decent eye and the ingredients of an approach, so there’s some hope for a future 50 hit tool here. It’s something of an in-between profile, as his offense doesn’t project enough strength to carry him but the arm isn’t enough of an asset to where he’ll project as a defense-first back-up type either.