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Tapia bulks up, maintains speed

Rockies outfielder hopes to increase power while still running well; no extension talk for LeMahieu
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The increased mass of Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia's arms stood out. His right forearm, more muscular than last year, tapered to a wrist that was banded by an inch-wide strip of yellow rubber with a message: "Slow Body, Quick Hands."

Well, rest assured that Tapia is only taking the advice so far.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The increased mass of Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia's arms stood out. His right forearm, more muscular than last year, tapered to a wrist that was banded by an inch-wide strip of yellow rubber with a message: "Slow Body, Quick Hands."

Well, rest assured that Tapia is only taking the advice so far.

"That's just hitting," he said, laughing. "That's my plan."

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There is nothing slow about Tapia's body. Last year on July 3 against the Reds, he sprinted out a triple in 10.94 seconds, according to Statcast™. Just five other players ran out a triple in less than 11 seconds in 2017. Going by top sprint speed, also measured by Statcast™, Tapia's 29.5-second clocking was fastest on the Rockies and tied for seventh in the Majors.

Video: CIN@COL: Tapia opens the 2nd with a triple to right

Adding some power wouldn't hurt. Tapia, who hit two home runs in 70 games with the Rockies last year, has just 39 home runs across seven Minor League seasons, never more than 12 in one season.

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But Tapia won't trade his speed, which could turn into a huge part of his game. In his 92 career games at the Major League level, Tapia has succeeded in eight out of 10 stolen-base attempts, and was 12-for-14 at Triple-A Albuquerque last year. That speed could serve him well, as the Rockies may have a corner-outfield spot open, depending on how roster construction works out. The team is also flirting with dropping Charlie Blackmon from first to third in the order, which means Tapia could have a chance to earn leadoff at-bats.

Listed at 6-feet-2, Tapia weighed 165 pounds last year, with a fashion runway-friendly physique. Now 24 years old, he is weighing in at 180 pounds.

"I worked hard at the Rockies' complex in the Dominican," Tapia said. "I'm feeling strong. But I'm running no different."

Interestingly, Tapia built a reputation with his bat, with a career slash line of .322/.366/.455 across all Minor League levels. While his stolen-base totals were decent in the Minors -- 33 at Class A Asheville in 2014, 26 at Class A Advanced Modesto in 2015 -- it wasn't until last season that Tapia established his speed as a true weapon.

"Every year, I got more and more fast," Tapia said.

This offseason, Tapia played in 14 games for Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League -- where he picked up the band with the reminder that should help with his swing -- and went 9-for-49 (.184), but most of his time was spent preparing for 2018. With former first-round Draft pick David Dahl and fast-rising former 10th-round pick Mike Tauchman also competing for starts and playing time, Tapia wanted to be ready.

LeMahieu looking ahead
Second baseman DJ LeMahieu avoided arbitration in his final year of eligibility by signing a one-year, $8.5 million contract last month. He said there have been no discussions about extending the deal.

Video: LeMahieu discusses his confidence heading into 2018

"We haven't really talked about it, but that's all up to the front office," LeMahieu said. "I actually enjoy being a Rockie and I love being here, but we haven't talked about it much. We'll see."

Another year at altitude
Bud Black managed another National Leauge West team, the Padres, from 2007-15, and was familiar with the effects of altitude at Coors Field. But seeing it firsthand as the Rockies' manager last year revealed something to him: Starters need to be given greater leeway to stay in games.

"Each game is different -- you don't know -- but generally speaking you would like your starting pitcher to pitch into the game as deep as you can," Black said. "You try to avoid going to the bullpen early.

"Let's say we come back from a seven-game road trip and we've got seven games in a row in Denver. The first game, so-and-so is pitching, we need this guy to go. If we have to use five guys the first night, heads up the next six games."

More humidor
The D-backs will store baseballs in an atmosphere-controlled chamber -- commonly referred to as a humidor -- starting this season. The Rockies, who are in a dry climate and play at a high altitude, have done so since 2002. The idea is to keep the balls at the same specifications as when they leave the factory, and keep them from shrinking, hardening and becoming more slippery.

Rockies righty Jon Gray said he has noticed some atmospheric differences when he pitches at Chase Field as opposed to other parks, but the effect was mitigated because "that field is a little bigger." But he doesn't notice problems with the grip of his breaking ball, which was a major problem in Denver before the humidor was installed.

"My curveball works better there than it does at home," Gray said. "But it is pretty cool."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Raimel Tapia