Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #11 Tyler Naquin

Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #11 Tyler Naquin

Arguably the most talked about prospect this spring, outfielder Tyler Naquin comes in at Number 11 on our 2016 Cleveland Indians Top Prospect countdown.

Who is Tyler Naquin?

Naquin joined the Indians as their first-round pick in 2012 (15th overall) out of Texas A&M University.  The 24-year-old left-handed hitter stands 6’2″ and weighs about 190 pounds.  Naquin split 2015 at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus when he wasn’t on the disabled list. He was added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster this fall to prevent him from being taken in the Rule 5 Draft.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Like many college bats taken early in the draft, Naquin had an advanced feel for hitting coming out of school. He hit .381 and .380 his final two seasons at Texas A&M, leading the Big 12 Conference both years. In addition to the batting average, Naquin showed a knack for getting on base, posting an on-base percentage over .450 his last two seasons.  As he entered the professional ranks Naquin picked up mostly where he left off. He’s hit .286 with a .358 OBP thus far in his minor league career. 

He’s proven to be a great line-drive hitter and can drive the ball to all fields. He has yet to hit for much power as a professional as he’s hit just 21 home runs in over 1400 plate appearances. He showed a bit more power in 2015; however, it’s still not a big part of his offensive skill set. He’s more about getting on base, which he’s done well thanks to his 9.0% walk rate in the minor leagues (in addition to that solid batting average). Naquin has been a solid doubles hitter, hitting 30 in 2013 and a total of 77 in his career. He’s also added 14 triples, giving him 112 extra-base hits.

In addition to a solid bat, Naquin provides great value with the glove. He’s played almost exclusively in center field, where he’s surprised some by proving to not only be able to handle the position, but play it well. He’s got good instincts and enough speed to cover ground. He’s also got a plus arm which plays up in center. That arm allows him to move to right field if the need arises as well as play left field.  While not a burner, he’s got above average speed, swiping double-digit bases each of the past three seasons. Over the past two seasons, he has a stolen base success rate over 80% as well.

Naquin’s biggest issues lately have been his ability to stay on the field. He missed much of 2014 with a wrist injury and missed time last season with a concussion. He only played in 76 games in 2014 and 83 across the two levels last year.  One other knock on Naquin, at least early on, was his strikeout rate. He as flirting with 30% early in his Double-A career; however, he’s shown a very good turnaround, reducing that down closer to 20%, which is much more manageable as he heads to the big leagues.

Many will have Naquin higher than I do (for example, Baseball America has him sixth in the Tribe’s system), and I can understand why. Naquin does a bit of everything well. However, he also lacks an extremely high ceiling. No tool other than maybe the arm/defense rate out as truly plus.  Many foresee him as merely a fourth outfielder at the next level or a platoon guy that sits versus left-handed pitching. I do think Naquin can still make it as a starter, despite not putting him in the top 10 I like his upside; however, it’s just not quite there with the guys ahead of him, which is why he “only” comes in at 11 on our list.

Where Does He Go From Here?

If not for the injuries, there’s a very real chance Naquin already would have made his major league debut. He was off to a good start in his first Triple-A stint last year, leading many to feel he’s major league ready right now. Much of the talk this spring has been about whether or not Naquin could make the Tribe’s Opening Day roster, and he certainly hasn’t done anything to quell those talks with how he’s hit either.

As of this writing, Naquin is batting .438 with a 1.173 OPS (on-base plus slugging) this spring in 32 at-bats.  That OPS ranks third on the team (minimum 10 at-bats) behind only Mike Napoli and Jose Ramirez. Given the suspension to Abraham Almonte and the struggles of many of the other outfielders, there’s a very real possibility that Naquin does force his way onto the big league roster.

However, at the end of the day it is only spring training numbers. While they are amazing, the sample sizes are just too small to draw any major conclusions. Plus he only has 50 games at the Triple-A level. With Michael Brantley looking like he could be back a lot sooner than originally thought, Naquin may yet find himself in Columbus as opposed to Cleveland.  Regardless of where Naquin opens though, he will see Cleveland in 2016 (barring another injury).  His skill set will at worst make him a valuable bench asset for Francona to utilize. Make no mistake, Naquin is a big league caliber player. The only questions are how good of one can he be and how soon will he get to show those skills.