Jack-of-all-trades Tapia ready to show speed, skills in Toronto

28-year-old on comfort level in CF: 'Like eating rice and beans in my house'

March 26th, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of baseball’s most watchable teams has added another layer in Raimel Tapia, the former Rockies outfielder who can look like five different players in the same game.

The former Top 100 prospect comes over with a reputation for making lots of contact -- all too often on the ground -- but Tapia tantalizes with the odd moonshot and puts plenty of balls in play. Add in some unique batting stances, a few highlight-reel catches and his speed on the bases and Tapia has the talent to be the difference-maker in a few games this season.

That’s likely to come as the Blue Jays’ primary reserve outfielder, a job that belonged to Randal Grichuk before he was dealt for Tapia on Thursday. There will be plenty of reps, especially with Toronto expected to rotate DH duties, while Tapia is also expected to back up George Springer in center. Coming in, there were questions about whether Tapia would look comfortable there.

“For me, it’s like eating rice and beans in my house,” Tapia said through a club interpreter.

Tapia’s speed is particularly valuable. The Blue Jays have gotten more athletic as a team compared to their playoff runs in 2015-16, but they’ve lacked a player with top-end speed. Tapia isn’t quite Usain Bolt, but he stole 20 bases in ’21 and has his sights set on at least 30 in ’22.

“It’s a big part of my game,” Tapia said. “For example, if I’m on first base and somebody hits the ball in the gap, I can score. And that would put the team in a winning situation. So yeah, that’s one of my best assets and I’m going to be using that a lot.”

The issue that keeps coming up in Tapia’s game, though, is ground balls. Of the 404 batters who had at least 100 plate appearances in 2021, Tapia’s average launch angle of -5 degrees ranked him dead last. No other player on the list even had a negative average, making him the outlier of all outliers.

It hasn’t always been this way for Tapia, who hit the ball in the air more consistently earlier in his career. He sees this as an opportunity to use his speed at times, but it’s still clear that his offensive value would be boosted significantly by some of these grounders turning into line drives.

Leaving Colorado wasn’t easy, given that he’d spent a decade with the organization, but Tapia quickly realized he was moving to a team that’s built itself into a postseason contender.

“Of course I knew the team was great,” Tapia said, “but I was always looking at the fans, the support the fans gave this team. Even though it wasn’t at full capacity, it felt like it, seeing the games from afar. It was great. I can’t wait to be out there at Rogers Centre and to see our fans.”

Ryu no longer No. 1, but just as important
Hyun Jin Ryu
wasn’t himself for much of 2021. The veteran lefty pitched to a 4.37 ERA, which by his standards, is a down year. The 35-year-old is feeling stronger in camp this spring, though, and recognizes just how critical his performance is to a rotation that has the potential to be one of baseball’s best.

“I feel like we have an extremely talented rotation,” Ryu said through a club interpreter. “I think it’s just going to be up to me. If I can do what I’m supposed to do, I think we’re going to have a really good year.”

José Berríos and Kevin Gausman will lead the rotation, while Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi round out the group, but it’s Ryu who is the biggest variable. If he’s hovering around a 4.00 ERA, he could slide as low as No. 4 in the rotation, but if the 2.71 ERA he posted over the four seasons prior returns, watch out.

Biggio building on strong start
Cavan Biggio
snuck a home run over the right-field wall in Tampa on Saturday during the 10-9 win over the Yankees, moving him to 4-for-8 on the spring with four walks. Biggio’s share of the second-base picture alongside Santiago Espinal is still developing with first base and outfield reps also coming his way, but a healthy season will help the 26-year-old after he was constantly battling throughout 2021.

Biggio hit just .224 with a .678 OPS last year, so the Blue Jays are looking to get him back to his 2019 form. As a rookie, he hit .234 with a .364 on-base percentage, .793 OPS and 16 homers over 100 games. Pitchers have adjusted to him, but if he can adjust back, Biggio will have plenty of opportunities to be a regular contributor, even if his position rarely stays the same.