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Tapia shows Isotopes why he is a prospect

It didn’t take Raimel Tapia long to show Albuquerque Isotopes fans what he does best.

Tapia hits the ball everywhere.

The Colorado Rockies’ 22-year-old outfield prospect made his Triple-A debut in the Isotopes’ home doubleheader against Las Vegas on Tuesday night. He played a key, if not starring role as the ‘Topes pulled off a sweep by 7-0 and 4-3 scores. Both were seven-inning games.

Batting first and playing center field, Tapia went 3-for-4 in the opener with singles in each of his first three at-bats. He also stole a pair of bases and scored twice.

“He is a contact hitter,” Isotopes manager Glenallen Hill said, “and he had three hits: one through the (second base) hole, one through the left side and one up the middle. Very nice.”

Tapia led off game two with a shot down the right-field line that was inexplicably played into a double by an overzealous Isotopes ball person. Tapia couldn’t help but laugh when asked about if the gaffe cost him a base.

“Yes, a triple,” he said with a shrug.

Regardless, Tapia finished his first night of Triple-A ball 4-for-7 with four runs scored. It was par for what’s been a superb 2016 season. Tapia was promoted to Albuquerque this week after hitting .323 in 104 games for Double-A Hartford. He hit eight homers, drove in 34 runs and led the Eastern League with 137 hits in 104 games.

Still, he thoroughly enjoyed coming to Albuquerque for his first official home game this year. Hartford’s home stadium is under construction and the Yard Goats have played all their games away from home.

“It feels awesome,” the Spanish-speaking Tapia said through interpreter and teammate Simon Castro. “I felt welcomed by everyone as soon as I got here. It felt like home right away.”

A rail-thin 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds, Tapia flashed his speed on both the base paths and in the outfield. The combination of speed and bat control have certainly helped set Tapia on a fast track through the minor leagues, but Hill said he also demonstrates considerable moxie at a young age.

“As long as I’ve known him,” Hill said, “he’s never been nervous on the field.”

Staying calm is a matter of keeping the game in perspective, Tapia said.

“I know this is a job, but it’s also a game,” Tapia said. “You have to try to enjoy it and have fun. You can’t do that if you’re nervous.”

Sweeping a doubleheader seemed to amp up Tapia’s fun factor quite a bit.

“When you can step on the field and win right away, you enjoy it right away,” he said with a smile.

Of course, Tapia did manage to leave one area of the field unaccounted for in his seven times at bat. The left-handed hitter twice popped out to shortstop in game two, trying to hit to the opposite field.

“Don’t be surprised if he hits one down the left-field line tomorrow,” Hill said. “I won’t be surprised.”

Shortstop Pat Valaika also made his Triple-A debut for the ‘Topes, picking up a hit in game two to finish 1-for-5 overall. Starting pitching managed to steal the show for Albuquerque, however, particularly Eddie Butler’s superb outing in game one.

Butler tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing three hits and walking two to improve to 6-2 on the season. The right-hander coaxed 12 ground-ball outs and turned in the Isotopes’ first complete-game shutout since Dana Eveland blanked Omaha over nine innings on July 28, 2011.

“Everyone’s been waiting to see that kind of consistency from Eddie,” Hill said. “He needs to pitch in his natural rhythm and he did that tonight. He was in his flow and very comfortable. That was good to see.”

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