With the trade of Randal Grichuk it’s the end of a mini era for the Blue Jays.
Grichuk was one of the first big Major League acquisitions by this front office that you thought would be a part of the team’s next core. The thought with Grichuk was he had tremendous power and if he could just cut down on the swing and miss and improve his walk rate he could be a very good player and a major part of the team’s core. Those improvements never materialized and he found himself as the fourth outfielder heading into this season.
Grichuk’s skill set doesn’t really work coming off the bench. His strikeout rate has come down quite a bit since his time in St. Louis, but he doesn’t walk or work the count. He’s a good defender, especially in right field, though he is a little miscast in centre. He’s a fine base runner but doesn’t have the blazing speed you would like to have on the bench. He will have an opportunity in Colorado to play every day and in Coors Field with his power could easily eclipse 35 homers.
Raimel Tapia maybe isn’t the player that Grichuk is, but he is a much better fit on this roster. Tapia is quick; his 28.3 feet per second sprint speed would rank second on the Blue Jays behind Teoscar Hernández. He can steal bases, having stolen 20 last season. Baseball-Reference calculates a run value from base running stat and Tapia was worth +3 runs above average last season. He was one of just 44 players to be worth three runs above average from base running. The only Blue Jays to be on this list were Bo Bichette (+4) and Marcus Semien (+3). He will add value to this team as a pinch-runner.
That speed also helps Tapia on defence. He played primarily left field for the Rockies and in 952.0 innings there last year he had seven defensive runs saved. That tied him for second among left fielders and one spot above Lourdes Gurriel Jr.. Baseball Savant rated Tapia as one out above average which rated him among the top 10 left fielders and a whopping 10 outs more than Gurriel Jr. Tapia is a good late-game defensive replacement for Lourdes.
When the trade happened many started questioning who would be the backup centre fielder with Grichuk gone. Tapia has played just 189.2 innings in centre in the Majors. Tapia came up as a minor leaguer as a centre fielder. He played 3395.0 minor league innings in centre. He was moved to left in the big leagues as Colorado had more accomplished players there. During Tapia’s time with the Rockies, they had Ian Desmond (who they gave that huge free-agent deal too), Charlie Blackmon, Garret Hampson, and Kevin Pillar (who I totally forgot was on the 2020 Rockies) playing centre. Is Tapia someone you want playing every day in centre? No, but he is more than capable of filling in there for a game or two when George Springer needs a day off.
With the bat, Tapia leaves a lot to be desired. He slashed .273/.327/.372 last season which is pretty much in line with his career. He doesn’t have really any power which limits his offensive ceiling. He however does do some things very well, which again makes him an asset of the bench. He has great bat-to-ball skills as seen by his elite contact rates. His contact rate last season was 87.0% and his rate inside the zone was 92.7%. He swung and missed just 6.6% of the time. He can talk a walk; he walked at a career-high 7.5% clip last season. He doesn’t strike out much, last season just 13.1%, a career-low. He won’t be the first option for a pinch hitter but he is someone who can come in, put the bat on the ball, move runners and his speed helps him avoid double plays.
That last point is crucial as Tapia is a hitter who hits exceedingly too many groundballs. Tapia hit an absurd 283 grounders last season. His 67.5% groundball rate is the highest ever for a qualified hitter since FanGraphs started tracking groundball rate in 2002. His launch angle was -4.4 degrees; he was the only player in the league to have at least 50 batted balls and a negative launch angle, per Baseball Savant. This is really not the approach you want a hitter to be taking, especially not in Colorado where the ball flies. This looks like something he was doing intentionally last season. Given his stature and lack of power he is going to have groundball tendencies, but it was never like this before. Even in the minors Tapia had always hovered between 45% and 50% groundball rate. Same with his launch angle, his launch angle for his first three MLB seasons were 13.8, 13.2 and 18.1 degrees respectively.
The Rockies don’t have a great reputation when it comes to developing younger players so who knows if this approach came from them or something Tapia did on his own. Ideally, the Blue Jays can help Tapia hit a few more line drives and become more of a gap-to-gap hitter. With his speed he can leg out doubles and even triples if the ball gets to the wall. The Blue Jays aren’t going to turn Tapia into some type of elite slugger but if he can make marginal improvements offensively he can be someone you can trust to fill in should one of the regular outfielders go down, and not be a total black hole at the bottom of the order.
With the offence the Blue Jays have they don’t need Raimel Tapia to be an elite player. He complements the team nicely as a fourth outfielder. He is someone who can come off the bench, pinch run, or be a defensive replacement. He played enough centre field in the minors where you can trust him to play there in a pinch and not hurt you. He’s a lefty bat with some upside, if he could just hit fewer groundballs.