Tyler Naquin wasn’t expected to receive much playing time with the Cleveland Indians in 2018, but he has a chance to prove himself once again.
Naquin is back due to Lonnie Chisenhall dealing with a calf muscle that just can’t stay healthy. The former contender for Rookie of the Year won’t see everyday playing time, but he figures to receive his fair share in an outfield that consists of himself, Brantley, Rajai Davis, Bradley Zimmer and Brandon Guyer.
Naquin is one of the more polarizing figures on this team. Some fans continue to believe he needs more time to prove himself, while others think he will never fix his problems at the plate. He slashed .296/.372/.514 in the 2016 regular season, only to go 4-for-23 in the playoffs that year and be rewarded with a total of 37 at-bats in 2017.
All Naquin can do now is go out and produce. It sounds basic, but it’s true. Coaches at any level of baseball will find a way to get talent into a lineup, especially when that talent comes at the plate. If Naquin gets back to hitting near .300 and having an OBP of around .350-.400, Terry Francona will continue to give him playing time.
Playing like he did during the first half of 2016 will give Naquin a chance to remain on the roster when Chisenhall returns. But even though it gives him a chance, he remains the odd man out if everyone else is healthy.
Naquin is the only one in the group that would be sent down to Columbus, so the only way he is staying when Chisenhall returns is if another outfielder hits the DL. And even then, it may be Greg Allen or Francisco Mejia time by that point in the year if Naquin isn’t blowing everyone away.
So what the Indians have in Naquin is a competent reserve outfielder, barring any unexpected boom in production. He is capable of some flashes of success, but our collective nostalgia for his walk-off inside-the-park home run in 2016 can’t overshadow the fact he isn’t going to earn regular time with this team in 2018.