Domingo Tapia: One Pitch Wonder?

New York Mets pitching prospect Domingo Tapia is in the midst of a breakout season for Savannah of the South Atlantic League. With nearly eight strikeouts per nine innings and a ground ball rate of 65%, his 2.65 FIP is good for second best in the league behind San Francisco Giants 2011 supplemental first round pick Kyle Crick. So what’s driving his success? A mid-to-upper 90′s fastball with heavy sink which rates as one of the single best pitches I’ve scouted in person. But what about the rest of his arsenal? It lags significantly behind, but Tapia may be taking a rather unique approach to to starting as an attempt to maximize what the young right-hander does well.

On the mound, Tapia is a massive presence as his listed height/weight of 6-foot-4, 186 pounds appears an inch short and thirty or more pounds light. Many pitchers blessed with Tapia’s natural size would be pushed to use more conventional mechanics including a higher arm slot to maximize the potential for downward plane on pitches. Not Tapia, however, as his low 3/4 arm slot would be considered unconventional for a starting pitcher. This low slot maximizes movement and Tapia’s biting, downward action is responsible for his heavy ground ball tendencies. In terms of arm action, few pitching prospects can generate the whip and arm speed Tapia does. At first look, he appears to have plenty of effort in his delivery. But after watching his video — especially from a side angle — I’m convinced my reaction was more due Tapia having such an unconventional throwing motion and not perceived injury risk.

Tapia featured two fastballs in this outing. His four-seam fastball was consistently 95-97 MPH, topping out at 99. The pitch was flat and command was just okay, but I’m convinced he used it primarily to change the eye level of opposing hitters. With a two-seamer and changeup which both feature natural sink, upper-90′s fastballs up are a great way to keep hitters honest who may be looking location.

After the start, I spoke with Toby Hyde of Mets Minor League Blog who also serves as radio broadcaster for the Savannah Sand Gnats. In discussing Tapia, Hyde mentioned the right-hander’s increased reliance on the four-seam fastball throughout the season and something clicked with me. With his low arm slot, a true breaking pitch may very well be impossible to develop fully. Is it possible Tapia will begin utilizing his two-seamer as a de facto breaking pitch with its heavy natural sink? It’s possible, if not probable.

Speaking of his two-seam fastball, it was consistently 94-95 MPH range with heavy sink and a few inches of arm side run. Tapia was adept at starting it off of the outside corner to right-handed hitters and working it back across the outer black. At present, one is able to project Tapia with above average command of the offering. It’s rare for one pitch to stamp a ticket to the major leagues, but this may be one of those instances. For me, it crosses the imaginary line between two-seamer and sinker. Yes, I know the terms are used interchangeably, but there’s just something about using the term “sinker” that alludes to an increased level of nastiness.

In between innings, Tapia dabbled with a sweeping slider which was not replicated in game action. For him to have any success with this pitch, the slowing of Tapia’s arm action needed would be the equivalent of tipping it.

At 88-89 MPH, Tapia’s changeup was arguably the hardest I’ve seen this season. Early in the outing, he shortened his delivery some and the left the changeup up in the zone. As the outing wore on, the pitch improved to the point where he felt confident enough to double and triple up on the offering. When down in the strike zone, Tapia’s changeup featured similar depth and fade to his sinker, albeit not nearly as sharp. With increased confidence and usage, I see no reason why Tapia would not be able to develop the pitch into at least an average offering.

Without a doubt, two variations of mid-to-upper 90′s fastballs are a great base to work from in terms of developing a pitcher. However, Tapia’s inability to throw a breaking pitch screams bullpen projection at the moment. This leaves Tapia in a tough spot as changing his arm slot may yield a decent breaking pitch, but take the bite out of his impressive sinker. Keep the low slot and his path to a big league starting rotation will require success with an arsenal not seen in starting pitchers. For now, the sinker is strong enough to yield results at the low levels of minor league baseball on its own. Within a couple of years, the Mets organization will need to decide whether the risk of changing what works for Tapia is worth the pay off of a viable starter. I’m glad I don’t need to make that decision.




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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


26 Responses to “Domingo Tapia: One Pitch Wonder?”

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  1. Eric Cioe says:

    Arsenal-wise, he sounds a lot like Masterson plus a few ticks. Masterson has been a perfectly serviceable starter since he got to Cleveland.

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  2. AV says:

    That delivery reminds me of the old black-and-white film of Walter Johnson! Let’s hope he’s just as successful.

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  3. Kevin says:

    You can’t “scout” if you’re not a scout. Maybe you “saw” him pitch, but you didn’t “scout” him. Grow some nuts and become an actual scout or front office person if you want to claim that you scout prospects.

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    • Sergio says:

      I’ve been reading this site for years and have never commented. I decided to change that, Kevin, to say that you are a jerk-off.

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      • Chummy Z says:

        I concur with Sergio. Hell, I don’t even read much of the prospect-related stuff on Fangraphs (I’m just not interested enough in prospects and minor league stuff), but to call Newman’s work anything less than scouting is stupid, and he’s really good at what he does.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Good one Kevin. You know I didn’t call what I did scouting until I actually began speaking to scouts. They respected my work and I began developing contacts. Those contacts considered what I did scouting so I began to refer to it as such.

      If you don’t consider what I do scouting, cool. I’m fine with that. Enough people out there do that I can find amusement in these types of comments.

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    • cobradc23 says:

      Definition of scout: To observe (check) and evaluate (check). Sounds like Mike did indeed “scout” Tapia.

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  4. fjghk says:

    Sounds similar to Henderson Alvarez no? Both had mid 90s sinking FBs and good changeups…

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  5. G says:

    Sounds like fellow Mets farmhand Jeurys Familia. Huge body, huge moving fastballs, iffy off-speed, similar control/command issues whereas they really don’t need excellent command just good control.

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  6. astrostl says:

    My name is Domingo Tapia. You kill my breaking ball. Prepare to ground out.

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  7. Jeff Reese says:

    Wow Mike, low armslot indeed! That’s just a couple degrees above true side-arm.

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  8. J W says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the arm slot… see one Johnson, Randy.

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    • LTG says:

      But Johnson figured out a slider that was devastating and it took him a while to do it. Plus he needed a lot of time to learn how to command his pitches. Nevertheless, I was wondering whether Johnson’s ability to eventually develop an effective slider presents a possible line of development for Tapia that does not require changing his arm slot. So, if we turn J W’s assertion of confidence into a question, I’d love to hear Mike’s opinion.

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  9. reillocity says:

    I saw 3 Dominican-born Mets RHPs (Luis Mateo, Gabriel Ynoa, Hansel Robles) at the NYPL All-Star Game and was struck by how low their arm slots were collectively (there are YouTube videos of them as well). Now this Tapia video gets me thinking about whether the Mets are encouraging this sort of delivery (perhaps by preferring not to change their mechanics if they’re having success with it). I’m guessing a couple of those NYPL guys will be surfacing in the Sally League soon for you to scout.

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    • Rick says:

      reillocity,

      Mets also have Luis Cessa and Rainy Lara at Brooklyn who have lots of potential. I would wager that they have the deepest pitching farm of any team in baseball. There are 4-5 guys at every level that are very interesting!

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  10. Rick says:

    I’m critical of alot of FanGraphs authors (Especially Marc Hulet, who I do not care for at all).. but Mike Newman is without a doubt one of the best on here. He’s one of the few reasons left (besides looking up stats) I come to this site anymore.

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  11. Antonio Bananas says:

    Traditionally people think of breaking pitches as pitches that you need to snap off to get to work. Why not teach him something the only requires a finger adjustment? A knuckle curve should still work at that arm slot. You basically just lift your index finger and let your middle finger cause the circular spin that causes the break. The side arm trajectory might make it move more horizontally, but it’s something.

    Then again, I’m not a coach, scout, or physicist. Just something I was thinking about.

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  12. Visnovsky says:

    So this is just conjecture: If he develops an average changeup, with what will likely be an above average sinker-4 seam combination, wouldn’t that be enough to be good-enough against lefties? I imagine his near side-arm delivery and fastball velocity will always be tough against righties.

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  13. ttnorm says:

    Mike, his arm whip seems to trail his motion more than most adding to his movement but I think raising questions about long term soundness. Your thoughts?

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