Cleveland Indians: Tyler Naquin Deserves To Stick Around

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The injury to Carlos Carrasco is devastating on almost every level for the Cleveland Indians.  Carrasco appeared to be developing into the kind of starter who seems likely to win every time he takes the mound, which is rare in baseball.  Indeed, the Cleveland Indians may turn out to have three of those guys, if Corey Kluber regains his Cy Young form and Danny Salazar keeps progressing.  In any event, if the injury to Carrasco sidelines him for only six weeks, there is plenty of time for him to come back and have a positive impact on the season.  In the meantime, Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson will resume their audition for the fifth starter role that began in spring training.

If there is an upside to the Carrasco injury, it is that it prevented the Indians from making what would have been a serious mistake.  Had Carrasco not gotten hurt, the return of Michael Brantley to the active roster would likely have resulted in Tyler Naquin being sent to Columbus.  This would have been the wrong move for several reasons.  First, with three days off between now and May 12, the pitching staff should not be overly taxed, so having thirteen pitchers is silly.  They can either skip the fifth spot in the rotation, freeing up Bauer or Anderson for long relief, or give everyone an extra day of rest.  Either way, twelve men should be enough. 

More from Away Back Gone

Second, I like Jose Ramirez more in the super sub role than in a defined platoon situation in the outfield.  That is especially true if the plan was to use him in center.  Ramirez is a terrific athlete, but assuming someone can play center field just because they are fast is a bad idea.  Ramirez can play at least four positions competently, and possibly seven if he has to.  Having him locked into a platoon will also make it less likely that Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, and Juan Uribe be rested on a regular basis, which may take its toll (especially on Uribe) over the course of a long season.

Another reason for keeping Naquin around is that he has earned it.  He has followed up his spectacular spring with a solid beginning to the regular season, hitting .333 so far.  Granted, I would feel better vouching for him if his K/BB ratio was better than 9/0, but he has not looked over matched at any point so far.  As he gets more comfortable, he should approach his minor league walk rate of one per eleven plate appearances, which would push his OBP into the .350 neighborhood, which would make him a candidate to hit leadoff.

The biggest reason to keep Naquin, though, is that he is far and away the best defensive center fielder on the roster.  There isn’t enough data after seventeen games to make that argument statistically, but if you have watched him, Naquin is probably the best centerfielder the Indians have had since Grady Sizemore was healthy.  Given the importance of defense up the middle, the combination of Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez, Kipnis, Lindor, Ramirez, and Naquin makes the Indians as strong in that area as any team in the American League. As long as Naquin is holding his own offensively, he is worth keeping around just for his defense.  A platoon of Marlon Byrd and Lonnie Chisenhall in right, Rajai Davis and Naquin in center, and Brantley in left gives the Indians enough punch and defense that the outfield could actually be a strength, which none of us could imagine a couple of months ago.

Next: Indians Are Legit Contenders

When Carrasco comes back, or when the schedule heats up to where there are no more days off for a while, the Indians can weigh the benefits of a fifth outfielder against an eighth reliever.   If Dan Otero is still on pace at that point to pitch 38 innings for the season, it would be hard to justify keeping the reliever (not necessarily Otero, who has allowed only two baserunners), but it’s never wise to bet against Terry Francona wanting more relievers.