The 2014 season was a special year for Tyler Naquin, but not for all the right reasons.
After being drafted by the Tribe in the first round of the 2012 draft, Naquin has had a pretty decent career thus far. He’s spent most of his time playing in centerfield, and doing exactly what the Indians had hoped for when they drafted him: run fast, hit for contact, and play stellar defense. He found some major success in the Lower-A teams as between 2012-2013, before his promotion to Akron, he had a triple slash of .295/.375/.781. He’s not a big home run hitter, but he definitely gets on base and hits the ball well. That was until he got to Double-A Akron at least.
In his first stint at Akron in 2013, he hit a measly .225/.271/.571 in 18 games. Obviously this was a terribly small sample size, but it still shows that he may have been promoted a bit too soon. Hoping to work this out in the winter, Naquin came back and performed about the same in his first month of 2014. In the first couple of weeks in April, he was hitting just barely over the Mendoza line, and was leaving a lot of guys on base. By the end of April, he was able to raise his triple slash to .267/.344/.727 with only three RBI’s, five stolen bases and had 28 strikeouts to only nine walks. That’s a pretty terrible K/BB for your leadoff hitter. Luckily he really turned things around in May.
After his horrendous April, he followed up by batting .328/.370/.805 in May. He improved his K/BB by striking out 23 times to 10 walks. It’s not a huge improvement, but it still counts. He had 17 RBI’s along with six steals, five doubles, and one triple. Naquin credits a lot of his improvement in May to him improving his batting stance to how he was hitting in the Fall League of 2013.
“I had started out real high with my stance when I first came to pro ball,” Naquin said. “They spread me out quite a bit, when I got back to the fall league and decided to make a happy medium about it.”
“I started off pretty hot there in 120 at bats and was able to put up some good numbers there. I tried to carry it over here. I tried a few different things in spring training and see what happened, tried to carry it over to the beginning of the season. It didn’t work out for me. I kind of went back and tweaked some things. I went back to what I was doing. That’s my real foundation.”
The best thing to notice about Naquin’s May is that he was able to get on base so much. It’s blatantly obvious that Naquin is a high strikeout guy. Which kind of resembles Michael Bourn and Grady Sizemore. The difference between Bourn and Naquin is though is that Naquin is able to put the ball in play really well.
Everything seemed to be going well for Naquin as he entered June, until the RubberDucks fell on the injury bug in a matter of one week. Naquin, Francisco Lindor, and Joe Wendle all obtained some freak injuries in a matter of three days of each other. Unlike Naquin, Lindor and Wendle were able to make it back to the team before the season ended. Naquin had to sit out with a broken right hand for the remainder of the 2014 season. There was a chance that Naquin could have returned to play in the playoff games for the RubberDucks, but it wasn’t worth it to rush him back.
Now that he’s fully healthy, Naquin needs to rebound from his injury. He needs to show that he can continue to rake like he did in Akron. Right now, James Ramsey is going to be the starting center fielder for Triple-A Columbus after coming into the Tribe’s system following the Justin Masterson trade last season. I would think that Naquin would probably start his season back in Double-A Akron. If any type of injury falls on Bourn though, Ramsey or Tyler Holt will be the first person that gets called up to fill that role. That’s saying Holt doesn’t make the opening day roster. Regardless of which one of them gets called up first, if Naquin is producing, and there is an everyday role open in Columbus, Naquin will be moved up.
The Indians currently have a ton of outfielders in their minor league system right now which most notably consists of Holt, Ramsey, Anthony Gallas, Carlos Moncrief, Bryson Myles, and Jordan Smith. Even farther down in their system consists of two of the Indians top prospects in Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer. For Naquin to see time in Akron, he’ll need to outperform almost all of these guys. He’ll only move up to Triple-A if he’s going to fill an everyday role.
Naquin is a leadoff man and a leader in the clubhouse. He brings a professional attitude to the park every day, and goes about his business with a mature mindset. That’s the role that he fills on the field as well. His time to shine in the big leagues will come, but I wouldn’t expect it until the depth in the outfield has thinned out a bit. As for now, he just needs to continue what he has done his entire life: hit the baseball, and hit it a lot.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer