Know your prospects: Tyler Naquin

Tony Lastoria looks at another Cleveland Indians prospect, Carolina Mudcat Tyler Naquin.

A year ago, outfielder Tyler Naquin was selected in the first round of the 2012 Draft by the Cleveland Indians. Currently, he is having a breakout season at High-A Carolina.

The selection of Naquin left Indians fans disappointed because he wasn't a power hitter or fireballing pitcher, but he has won over naysayers with his performance this season. There are still doubters - and rightfully so - but this season is very encouraging.

Naquin was recently named to the Carolina League All Star team, and will be joined by shortstop Francisco Lindor, first baseman Jerrud Sabourin and right-handed pitcher Cody Anderson. In 59 games he is hitting a very healthy .307 with five home runs, 23 RBI, six stolen bases and .833 OPS.

In the pitching-dominated Carolina League, he currently ranks 2nd in the league in hitting (.307), 6th in runs (38), 1st in hits (75), 4th in doubles (18), 8th in triples (3), 3rd in total bases (114), 2nd in strikeouts (61), 8th in on-base percentage (.366), 5th in slugging percentage (.467), and 6th in OPS (.833).

That type of performance is expected from a freshly-plucked first round pick. Now, he needs to carry that over as he moves up in the system. He will probably be promoted to Double-A Akron soon, possibly after the Carolina League All Star game on June 18th.

Naquin’s offensive showing to date is not surprising, as he has impressive bat speed and bat-to-ball ability. 

Carolina manager Dave Wallace has a front row seat to Naquin’s surprising power display this season, and likes what he has seen.

“I like his gamer attitude,” Wallace said.  “At the plate he is not afraid. He sticks his nose in there and he knows what he is looking for and when he gets it he lets it rip on it.”

That lack of power was Naquin’s biggest knock coming into the draft, but he has shown that it could carry over into the upper levels of professional baseball.  He doesn’t have the strength and size to be a 20-homer a year hitter, but with his swing and bat speed, he could settle in as a 10-15 homer guy at some point and pile up lots of doubles.

“He is a line drive hitter that has the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark,” Wallace noted.  “Popping one out every now and then is great, but he is a top of the order guy that is going to get on and run and put pressure on the defense.  He’s got a good eye but he is aggressive up there.”

Naquin’s defense has been as-advertised as he has really made a nice transition into a good center fielder. He primarily played right field in college, but the Indians drafted him with the idea of developing him as a center fielder, and he has made big strides defensively.  He is getting good jumps on balls, has made several running catches near the wall, and comes in on balls with reckless abandon. His gifted right arm has been on display with several strong throws.

When you look at Naquin’s ability to be a .300 hitter, above average speed, good defense, and howitzer for an arm, you can see why a lot of people are on his prospect bandwagon. The only question now is if he can maintain health, develop consistency to his game, continue to show occasional power, and - most importantly - hone in on his plate discipline.

For as good as Naquin has been this season, the one red flag with him has been his propensity to strikeout a lot as his 61 strikeouts rank 2nd in the league. The high strikeouts and low amount of walks (20) are a surprise, as his ability to make consistent contact was something that he was known for coming out of the draft. If he maintains the solid power production and high average, the Indians can live with the high strikeout total.

Overall, as the All Star break approaches, the Indians could not be happier with how Naquin has developed and performed this season. The time is coming for him to prove himself at a higher level, and he could be on the big league radar by the end of the season.

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