Out of options, Tapia must deliver in 2019
McMahon makes adjustments at plate; Reynolds looking for openings in starting lineup
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-handed-hitting outfielder Raimel Tapia smiled at the memory of his best 2018 moment, which occurred not far from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
On July 20, Tapia launched a grand slam in an 11-10 victory over the D-backs in downtown Phoenix. Tapia finished with a .200 batting average in 27 plate appearances over 25 games, and did not make the Rockies' postseason roster. But the clutch homer and the solid Triple-A Albuquerque numbers -- .302/.352/.495, 11 home runs, 21 steals -- gave Tapia, 25, reason to arrive at Spring Training believing he can be a greater contributor in 2019.
"I was very, very excited," Tapia said. "Buddy Black said, 'Hey, Tapia, go and pinch-hit,' and I said, 'OK, I'm ready.' When the ball was going, I said, 'Yeah, I like that.'"
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Tapia was a greater factor in 2017, when he batted .288/.329/.425 in 171 plate appearances with two homers, two triples and 12 doubles while earning a spot on the postseason roster. But last season, Tapia didn't grab his chance in Spring Training, and he never gained traction in the small snippets of playing time.
This time, Tapia has renewed opportunity, along with a need to deliver.
The Rockies not re-signing Carlos González and Gerardo Parra opens playing time for Tapia, who is out of Minor League options.
Although he plays all three outfield spots, Tapia's best defensive position is center field. With Charlie Blackmon moving from center to right and David Dahl in left, right-handed-hitting Ian Desmond makes room for Daniel Murphy at first base by moving to center. That puts Tapia in position for innings as a defensive replacement, with a chance to earn more opportunities.
"The trick for him is to be a performer when he does play, even though it might not be a 600 at-bat season," Black said. "Or we'll see how he plays. Playing time might be warranted by how he performs.
"The bat-to-ball skill, the speed, his ability to be a hit collector -- those are things that he did at the higher level of the Minor Leagues that led you to believe that he can do it in the big leagues."
McMahon's potentially game-changing swing
Second-base competitor Ryan McMahon, who appeared in 91 Major League games last year, hit 25 home runs in 125 Triple-A games over the last two years. In the Majors last year, he hit just five home runs, usually garnering hits going the other way.
During the offseason, McMahon worked on his swing with Rockies assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar and Albuquerque hitting coach Tom Doherty. A key improvement is making contact further in front, which could unlock some of his pull power, even though Black believes the ability to spray the ball around the field is an asset.
"He's not changing his swing," Black said. "It's a beautiful swing. It's a swing that plays in the big leagues. But there are some other components of hand position, bat path. Those are things he's trying to work on."
McMahon hit just .213 against right-handed pitchers, despite excelling against righties in the Minors. He believes those numbers can be corrected by not pressing.
"I would try to go out there and try to do more, because I knew that I could hit against righties, instead of just going up there and taking my normal swing," McMahon said.
Reynolds, the Swiss Army knife
Right-handed-hitting veteran Mark Reynolds, signed to a Minor League deal, showed up ready for more than the bench role the Rockies envision. Reynolds knows unexpected opportunities often present themselves; for instance, in 2017, he ended up as the Rockies' starting first baseman when Desmond missed time with a broken hand.
"It was an adjustment for me last year," Reynolds said of signing with the Nationals after the season began. "I've signed, like, four or five times to do that and ended up playing a little more than they expected."
He adjusted by developing a routine of going to the batting cage during games to hit against a pitching machine dialed up to 100 mph.
Reynolds primarily plays first base, but he has an extensive history at third. Black mentioned that Reynolds could play some second as well. That could spice up camp should the group of younger infield options -- McMahon, Garrett Hampson, Pat Valaika and Brendan Rodgers -- prove not ready when Spring Training ends.