Cleveland’s Naquin Finishes Third in the AL Rookie of the Year Race
Bob Toth | On 15, Nov 2016
History has shown that Cleveland Indians players who are named the league’s Rookie of the Year do not always go on to have the most productive and injury-free careers on the field, so maybe, just maybe, the results of the American League Rookie of the Year voting this season will have positive results on the career of outfielder Tyler Naquin.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced its Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award winners from both leagues on Monday, with the Tribe rookie outfielder finishing a distant third in the annual award voting.
Detroit starting pitcher Michael Fulmer became the first Tigers player since rotation teammate Justin Verlander in 2006 to win the AL ROY Award, taking home 26 of the 30 first place votes possible to tally 142 points in total. He was the only player to appear on every ballot. He went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA and led AL rookies in ERA, starts, innings pitched, wins, strikeouts, and WAR.
New York catcher Gary Sanchez, who broke out after a late season call-up, put up the numbers of a player who had been on the Major League roster all season long and finished in second place. His shorter stay in the Majors than the other rookie candidates in the league may have hurt his status, as he pulled in just four first place votes while getting the lion’s share of the runner-up votes with 23 of 30 possible. The 23-year-old appeared in 53 games for the Yankees, hitting .299 with 12 doubles and 20 homers while driving in 42 runs after joining the club for good on August 3.
Cleveland’s Naquin came in third place with 20 points received on the ballot. He received a pair of second place votes and 14 third place votes. Houston’s Chris Devenski (7 points), Seattle’s Edwin Diaz (4 points), Texas’ Nomar Mazara (4 points), and Chicago’s Tim Anderson (2 points) also earned some consideration.
Second place votes for the Texas native and Texas A&M product Naquin came from Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas, and Scott MacArthur of TSN.ca, voting on behalf of the Toronto chapter. The two representatives of the Cleveland chapter to contribute to the balloting – Tom Withers of the Associated Press and Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com – did not take favorably to the local boy. Withers opted to vote Fulmer, Sanchez, and Mazara, while Castrovince (who was one of four to place Sanchez first and Fulmer second) gave Naquin his third-place vote.
Naquin finished third after his impressive debut season. He burst onto the scene in the spring as the Indians outfield was decimated by injuries and bad choices. Michael Brantley was not (and never appeared to be) fully healed from his offseason shoulder surgery and Lonnie Chisenhall was dealing with several ailments that would land him on the 15-day disabled list with Brantley to start the campaign. As if those two losses were not already significant enough, projected starting center fielder Abraham Almonte donated his first 80 games of the season to the league before February ended for violating the MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for his positive test for Boldenone.
With doors left ajar, the 2012 first round draft pick (15th overall) kicked them in to claim a spot on the Indians’ Opening Day 25-man roster. Naquin’s stay was not permanent, as when Brantley and Chisenhall returned from the disabled list and the club needed a pitcher for the injured Carlos Carrasco at the beginning of May, he returned to Triple-A Columbus to fine tune with the Clippers. He spent less than a week with the club from May 7 to May 13, rejoining the Cleveland roster when Brantley landed back on the DL, but he was optioned again on May 18 to make room for another starting pitcher, Mike Clevinger.
The 25-year-old Naquin returned to the Indians lineup for good on June 2 when the team lost outfielder Marlon Byrd to a PED suspension. Against the Kansas City Royals on June 5, Naquin hit the first of three solo home runs for the Indians in the fifth inning in a 7-0 win. It was his third straight game with a home run. On June 9 in Seattle, Naquin slugged a two-run home run in the eighth inning to break a 3-3 tie in a 5-3 win. In a blowout in Cleveland on June 18 against the White Sox, Naquin went 3-for-3 at the plate and reached base five times in the ball game. He tallied four RBI and finished just a double short of hitting for the cycle.
The production continued for Naquin into July as his batting average remained well over the .300 mark. On July 20, he put up two of his six homers in the month in the same game against Kansas City and drove in a total of six runs, the first Indians rookie to hit two homers and drive in six in the same game since 1982.
In August, he began to scuffle some, but he was still able to make big contributions to the lineup for the Tribe. On August 14 in a home game against the Los Angeles Angels, he had a 3-for-4 day at the plate with a pair of doubles and an RBI, including a game-tying hit. With the White Sox in town on August 18, he did not register an official at bat, but delivered the game’s most important swing. After a passed ball moved the winning run to third base in the bottom of the ninth, Naquin pinch-hit for catcher Roberto Perez in the middle of the at bat and lifted a fly ball deep enough to center field to score Almonte with the walk-off run.
The next day was again won with Naquin’s assistance on a play few Indians fans will forget in their lifetimes. After teammate Jose Ramirez tied the game at two with one out in the bottom of the ninth against the Toronto Blue Jays, Naquin had one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 season as he sent a long fly ball to the wall in right field. Toronto outfielder Michael Saunders leapt at the wall but was unable to make the catch. Outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. ran over late from center and proceeded to slip before firing the ball from the seat of his pants towards the infield. Naquin continued to charge around the bases, getting the “go” sign from third base coach Mike Sarbaugh to proceed towards the plate. With a Superman slide into home plate and a celebratory fist pump to the skies, Naquin became an instant legend in Cleveland Indians history with the club’s first walk-off inside-the-park home run since Braggo Roth hit one more than 100 years earlier on August 13, 1916, against the St. Louis Browns.
Naquin struggled some in the final two months of the regular season, hitting .193 in 21 games in August and .269 in 25 games in September/October to drop his batting average for the year down to .296. He had a .372 on-base percentage and .514 slugging mark for the season with a .411 batting average on balls in play.
In his 116 games in the Indians lineup, he had 95 hits (including 18 doubles, five triples, and 14 homers) while scoring 52 runs and driving in 43.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images