Naquin Progressing One Hit at a Time

Last season, the Cleveland Indians made Tyler Naquin their first pick in the 2012 First Year Player Draft.  He was not the intensely hyped super pick that left teams drooling, but he was a solid player with great skills and a big upside. This season for the Carolina Mudcats, Naquin showed the Indians and their fans what he can do.

The Mudcats play their season in the Carolina League. That league had a crop of talented pitchers this season, making it a tough go for the hitters. Only the top tier hitters were able to step up and produce. Naquin was one of those hitters. He had the sixth highest batting average in the league among players with at least 400 plate appearances. He was in the top ten in runs, hits, doubles, triples, and slugging percentage. That is the type of performance teams hope to get out of their first round picks, and this is Naquin’s first full professional season. For all his offensive efforts, he was named to the Carolina League All-Star Team, and on Aug. 14, he was promoted to the Indians Double-A team, the Akron Aeros.

In ten games for Akron, Naquin has played admirably in the field and at the plate. He enjoyed a six game hitting streak and a stretch where he punched out seven hits in three days. His biggest game thus far came against the Erie Sea Wolves. He smacked out three hits with two runs, an RBI, and a double. The next day he hit his first career Double-A home run.

His home run power has been one of the biggest points against Naquin. He is not a guy that is going to give you 20-plus home runs a year. In Carolina, he played in a park that has one of the worst park factors for home runs in the league. He has the power to hit some out, but that is not his game.

“He has an impressive bat speed, and bat-to-ball ability,” Aeros’ Manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He knows when to rip it. He’s a line drive hitter. He’s got a good eye, he can run, he’s a top of the order guy.”

The lack of home run power shouldn’t be a concern. He has power to the gaps, he can rack up doubles, he hits the ball hard and he has enough power to project to a mid-teens home run guy.

“I’m not thinking about home runs,” Naquin said. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard, I’m looking back up the middle.”

It’s the same sort of attitude, the same sort of hitter, the Indians saw in Jason Kipnis. When Kipnis moved from Single-A to Double-A in 2010, he hit 16 home runs with 32 doubles. So far this season, Naquin has 10 home runs and 30 doubles split between the two levels.

“I know if I just go up and have a good at bat, I’ll get the results I want,” Naquin said. “I just have to stay consistent, be patient and know when to be aggressive. I don’t want to be too patient and waist opportunities, but I don’t want to be over aggressive either and waist my at bat.”

Another knock on Naquin was his high strikeout rate in Carolina. His strikeout rate was a whopping 22.5%, way up from the 16% of the previous season. One reason may have been the tough pitching; another may have been the change in level. Whatever the reason, he continued to hit well in spite of the strikeouts, and just as important, he continued to find ways to get on base. Coming out of the draft, Naquin was known for making consistent contact, so the propensity to strikeout may dissipate with experience. Either way, Naquin has reached the Double-A level in his first pro season and may well be one his way to an Indians uniform sooner than most had expected.

The Aeros have been on a hot streak lately. They have won eight of their last ten games, and took three out of four against the Binghamton Mets this past week. All three games were well pitched by the Aeros. Toru Murata got the win in game one, giving up 2 runs in 5.1 innings. Ronny Rodriguez got three hits and Jose Ramirez, Cedric Hunter, Tyler Holt, and Giovanny Urshela each added two hits in the Aeros’ 7-3 victory.

In the second game of the series, Brett Brach pitched strong into the eighth inning, but the game went into extras knotted up at three apiece. Urshela drove in the winning run in the 11th with a line drive up the middle to bring home Holt. Game three was all Binghamton as the Aeros got shellacked 10-2.

Sunday’s fourth game was an exciting one. The Aeros got out to an early and ultimately insurmountable lead with three runs in each of the first two innings.  The big news on the day came in the second inning. With Rodriguez on third and one out, Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly to left field and Rodriguez scored the sixth run of the game for the Aeros. It was a significant run for Aguilar as it was his league leading 100th RBI of the season.

The Aeros play only three more games at home before closing out their series with four games in Altoona. It’s the last chance to watch Akron play this season, so get out to Canal Park and cheer on your Aeros.

Photo: Akron Beacon Journal

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