Tyler Naquin is going to break camp with the Cleveland Indians – but it probably will not be until next season.
The 23-year-old outfielder came to Cleveland in the first round of the 2012 draft as a speedy, high on-base hitter with above-average defensive ability.
Naquin began the 2014 season with the Akron RubberDucks (AA) and get off to a rather pedestrian start, slashing .267 / .344 / .384 and striking out 33 percent of his at-bats. The next two months, however, Naquin posted slash lines of .328 / .370 / .434 in May and .333 / .394 / .448 in June. He was on pace to shatter his career stolen base total, stealing 14 of 17 bases in his first 76 games, and smacked 21 extra-base hits.
Naquin was likely destined for the Columbus Clippers (AAA) until he was hit by a pitch on June 27, breaking his hand and effectively ending a promising campaign. In his third spring training with the Tribe, Naquin appears to have fully recovered from the hand injury, but is just 2-for-8 in his first four games. Naquin has spent much of his time in Goodyear developing a close friendship with Ryan Raburn, picking the veteran’s brain and learning how to be a professional. According to Raburn:
"He’s a great kid. He has a good head on his shoulders. That’s the main thing. You see a lot of guys with a world of talent who take it the wrong way and don’t go as hard because they were a first-round pick…I like the kid. He definitely has a high ceiling."
While he has not had a particularly strong showing to this point, Naquin is gathering some crucial knowledge this spring – just the way he did with Kenny Lofton and Michael Bourn last year – before he is handed his Opening Day assignment.
The 6-feet-2-inch Texas native will likely begin his 2015 campaign back in Akron, but look for him to get a quick call-up to the Clips if he gets off to a good start.
Unfortunately for Naquin, though, his fate also hinges on the performances of those in front of him. Just like the parent club, Cleveland’s AAA roster is packed with quality outfielders – Tyler Holt, Carlos Moncrief and James Ramsey project to field the three outfield spots in Columbus.
The big league outfield, though, is still a bit of a question mark. Brandon Moss is recovering from offseason hip surgery (and made his debut yesterday) and Michael Bourn has shown an inability to stay healthy. If Bourn misses any time, expect one of the three Triple-A outfielders to get the nod, paving the way for Naquin to get his first extended look in Columbus.
As for his timetable in Cleveland: Naquin will need to play his way onto the Indians’ radar with another solid showing this season and he is still at least a year away from an extended showing. But, if the Tribe is in need of some outfield help come September, look for Naquin in Cleveland as early as this season.