Naquin May Fall Just Short of Rookie of the Year Honor

When it comes to the American League Rookie of the Year award, Cleveland Indians history has shown that finishing second or third in the balloting may be better than taking home the hardware as the league’s top first-year player.

Such names as Sandy Alomar, Jr., Joe Charboneau, Chris Chambliss and Herb Score have won the trophy as members of the Tribe. Alomar, Charboneau and Score each had promising careers derailed by injuries. Chambliss was the only one to avoid the curse of winning the AL ROY as an Indian, but he spent the majority of his career with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.

In the last 25 years, the likes of Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez and Francisco Lindor each fell just shy of earning enough votes to take home the prize. Lofton would have been a Hall of Famer had he played in any era but the “steroid era.” Ramirez would have been a surefire HOFer if not for testing positive for a banned substance. Lindor just enjoyed a fine second season, as a key player in helping the Indians to their first postseason appearance in three years and first division title in nine summers.

All that said, it may be nice for this year’s Cleveland rookie sensation, outfielder Tyler Naquin, to win the league’s top rookie hardware. However, something seems to be said for finishing just short of the award. Finishing top three is also a good indication that a strong career may very well be blossoming.

A top three finish in the voting seems like a probability for Naquin, one of the team’s bigger surprises this year. However, a win seems unlikely. He is probably going to finish second or third in the balloting.

This is not to say Naquin has no shot at the award. He certainly does. It just seems that he is playing in a season full of prime ROY candidates.

Naquin’s credentials, on their own, speak volumes about the type of first season he had and for that fact he should be strongly considered as the league’s top rookie. In 116 games, he hit at a very good .296 clip. He hit with power, mashing 14 home runs, and flashed a little speed, swiping six bases.

Cleveland’s Rookie of the Year contender had to deal with numerous obstacles just to stick in the Majors this year. It took injuries to outfielders Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, as well as a suspension for Abraham Almonte, for Naquin to make the big league club out of spring training.

In mid-May, the Tribe tried to send Naquin back to Tripe-A Columbus for more seasoning. Thanks to Brantley’s lingering shoulder injury and Marlon Byrd‘s eventual suspension, Cleveland continued to turn to its 25-year-old breakout player. Each time Naquin came back, he came back better than ever. By the end of June, it was impossible for the Indians to return him to the minors.

Naquin became a key part of manager Terry Francona‘s outfield rotation. He was responsible for two of Cleveland’s eleven walk-off wins. Naquin also delivered arguably the season’s most memorable moment for the Tribe, scampering around the bases with an inside-the-park, walk-off home run against the Blue Jays in August.

Certainly, Naquin has a strong case for AL ROY honors. However, this may be a case of wrong season to be in the mix. There are two other very strong candidates who may have had better years, in the eyes of the voters.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer is the likely odds on favorite to win the ROY in the American League this year. He and veteran ace Justin Verlander carried an otherwise lackluster rotation for a team that went into the final day of the regular season with A.L. Wild Card aspirations.

Fulmer’s numbers were about as good as it gets for a 23-year-old in his first Major League campaign. He was a solid 11-7 with an excellent ERA of 3.06. He fell just shy of throwing enough innings to qualify for the A.L. ERA title. Otherwise, he would have finished second in that category.

Clearly, the Tigers have found a starting pitcher for years to come and the heir apparent as the ace of the staff if Verlander starts to wind down in the next several years.

If voters decide to favor an every day player over a guy who played every five games, then Naquin’s case becomes interesting. It would come down to him or New York Yankees’ 22-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez. If a voter is choosing between one of them, it becomes a matter of taste.

While Naquin spent most of the season in the Majors and played in 115 of his club’s 162 games, Sanchez spent just two months with the Yankees. However, those two months were an amazing start to a career. He hit 20 bombs, six more than Naquin’s total, with 40 RBI, only three less than the Cleveland rookie, and batted .299. He was part of New York’s late season youth movement that saw the Yankees make a strong September charge that fell just short for a Wild Card berth.

Sanchez takes a hit to his candidacy because he did not go through the rigors of a full season like Naquin and Fulmer. However, it is hard to look past the power numbers he put up in a mere 53 games.

One thing Naquin has going for him is that he is the lone player, among the trio, to have helped a team to the postseason. On the flip side, Cleveland reached the postseason with a roster of guys that were pivotal helping the club to where it got.

That is what probably pushes Fulmer over the top. Without him, Detroit’s rotation would have been sunk. It would have been Verlander and nothing else behind him. Without Fulmer, the Tigers probably would not have been in shouting distance of the Indians in the division up to the final couple weeks of the season and likely would have been eliminated from Wild Card contention much sooner than the season’s final day.

It is definitely going to be a tough call for the voters. In the end, however, Fulmer probably will win out. Baseball pundits thought Fulmer to be the prime candidate since May and he really never did anything to lose that grip. It is kind of like last year, when the award was won by the Astros’ Carlos Correa, despite Lindor’s excellent campaign. The Houston rookie was making an impact first and never faded from contention.

A second or third place showing is probably in the cards for Naquin. A number of Indians, including one of his own teammates, have carved out quite the career after coming up just short in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Whether or not he wins the hardware, Naquin seems to be well on his way towards carving out a nice career of his own.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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