Spring Training Showcase for Tyler Naquin


Nov 2, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin against the East during the Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Naquin Has Opportunity to Impress

Let’s get some inconsistencies out of the way first: I’ve never really been a big supporter of the major-league future for OF Tyler Naquin, the Cleveland Indians’ 2012 first-round pick. Here is an incomplete list of things I’ve said describing Naquin:

  • “Fourth-outfielder”
  • “Meh”
  • “Him?”
  • “Maybe he could end up a decent and cheap everyday guy for a few years”
  • “Likely better than Trevor Crowe
  • “Really nice arm. Too bad he’s an outfielder.”
  • “Who?”
  • “Well, I think he will at least play in the majors at some point”

And so on, you get it. With two caveats (I’m not a scout, and I’ve never seen him in person, only video), I did not think much of the potential in Tyler Naquin.

Naquin was among a handful of Indians minor leaguers to receive invites to the big-league camp this spring. The sexiest name in this group is rightfully SS Fransisco Lindor. Speculations for the Major-League ETA of Lindor, the team’s top prospect and first-round pick in 2011, vary from the trading deadline this season (no) to mid-to-late 2015 (yes), but it’s highly unlikely Lindor breaks camp with the Tribe this spring (Brian has a quick explanation of why this is a good thing in the link).

And while it’s equally unlikely Naquin heads out to Oakland on March 31, recent scouting reports have certainly been kind to the 22-year-old prospect’s stock. And remembering said previous caveats, I’m opening up to the possibility that I was dead wrong potentially not completely correct regarding Naquin.

The impetus for my chance of heart likely began during our Wahoo’s on the Mic “State of the Franchise” series. As we discussed the outfield, and what would happen going forward with the team, the conversation turned to Naquin, and my co-host began to state they think there’s a chance Naquin could produce much like Michael Brantley does for the team – completely overrated by counting stats not great at any one thing, but a solid, all-around player who can help the team. This concept intrigued me, as it was certainly better than “Trevor Crowe with a great arm,” but also realistic, and  Naquin’s scouting reports seem to resemble Brantley in a lot of ways. I was not a huge fan of Michael Brantley, the prospect, but Brantley has certainly proved himself to be a cheap and useful outfielder fans seem to irrationally love.

Nov 2, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin against the East during the Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now, don’t take me being sort-of-not-completely correct about Brantley as a sign Naquin will turn out to be a decent outfielder. That’s not a logical conclusion to take here. But I’m not the only one who admits Naquin might be better than initially thought. Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus’s prospect guru, admitted he might have been too quick to dismiss Naquin as well in his 2014 Top-10 Indians prospects, where Naquin sits third (subscription required but well-worth it).

But though scouts seem to agree we will certainly see Tyler Naquin in the big-leagues at some point, not everyone shares Parks’s skeptical belief he will be a productive regular player. ESPN.com’s Keith Law ranked Naquin seventh on his recent 2014 top-10 Tribe prospects, down a notch from his 2013 rankings, when Naquin was sixth (both Law links require an ESPN Insider subscription). Law didn’t mention Naquin in his brief on the farm system, so it’s possible the drop isn’t something one should read into very much.  (If you don’t have ESPN Insider, our own Geordy Boveroux offered his thoughts on Law’s rankings here.)

To me, Tyler Naquin is a bit of a wild card going forward. I’m excited he will be in the big league camp for at least part of spring training, and I should actually get a chance to see him play at some point (via TV, admittedly,

but HD, yo

). He is still unlikely to develop any real home run power, but it’s possible some of his line drives end up doubles. Reports are saying the glove has really improved (Parks feels he can stick in center, which eases the need for his power to develop), and his arm is still considered plus-plus.

Hopefully this is obvious, but Naquin ending up as a serviceable starting center fielder would be quite useful to the Indians, if for no other reason than good old vertical depth. Going beyond this, though, is where it gets interesting. Though the Tribe’s outfield is set for 2014 barring any late-offseason craziness, which I heartily endorse, in 2015, the right field platoon of Ryan Raburn and David Murphy will be in the final guaranteed years of their deals (though the Indians hold 2016 club options on both players), and Michael Brantley will be in his second year of arbitration, and incumbent center fielder Michael Bourn will make $13.5 million in that season, same as his 2014 salary, and his deal potentially expires in 2016 (this doesn’t even include Nick Swisher, whom I expect to see shift more to first base). With a platoon in its final contract year, Brantley’s potentially rising salary, and even the possibility that Bourn appears to be a bargain at that point in time, a developed Naquin could potentially replace anyone traded in the starting outfield, or be used as a trade chip himself and a real trade chip not like a reliever trade chip.

Maybe Tyler Naquin is just a fourth outfielder. But come spring time, I’m looking out for someone other than Lindor (though it will be fun to watch him, too). If Tyler Naquin can develop into a productive everyday outfielder, the Indians could spend next offseason deciding from some pleasant options to help upgrade the team for the future.