With the 15th pick in the 2012 MLB Draft the Cleveland Indians selected outfielder Tyler Naquin from Texas A&M University. Naquin was originally drafted by the Orioles in the 33rd round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of high school, but now three years later he is an advanced college bat with a line drive approach. It’s those traits that should allow him to move quickly with the Tribe since they will likely have some holes to fill in the outfield as early as 2014. If both Shin-Soo Choo, a Boras client (read too expensive), and Grady Sizemore, who has been injured for what feels like the last decade, do not fit into their long term plans, Naquin will get a shot in “C-Town” maybe as early as September 2013.
Naquin is held in high regard by Baseball America and is viewed as the best pure hitter in the draft with a very strong arm in right-field which scouts view as plus. However, his bat does not profile for enough power to merit a corner outfield spot at the Major League level. This has lead to speculation that a move to center-field will become necessary, but even that comes with a few questions, as experts are concerned that he doesn’t have the speed and quickness to play up the middle. Overall, Naquin is an advanced hitter with excellent baseball instincts which allow his above average tools to play up. As I mentioned he does not have great foot speed but he is effective on the base paths and he has the ability to turn doubles into triples and steal bases at the next level.
Several experts thought the selection of Naquin was a reach by the Indians, especially when they are sorely in need of pitching after trading both Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez. Baseball America had Naquin listed as their 25th best prospect and Keith Law had Naquin ranked as his 42nd overall draft prospect, and it’s primarily his lack of power potential that holds him back from being more highly regarded.
It stands to reason then that Naquin’s power will be the subject of much discussion as the prospect rises through the ranks, especially since there really isn’t much else to critique. Personally, I think the Indians selected a player who can contribute sooner rather than later and the outfield is a mess in Cleveland so it is not as if this pick is completely unmerited.
2012: .380 BA, 3 HR, 56 R, 49 RBI, 21-for-26 SB (2 OF Assists)
2011: .381 BA, 68 R, 44 RBI, 6-for-13 SB (7 OF Assists)
2010: .244 BA, 2 HR, 29 R, 19 RBI, 6-of-8 SB (8 OF Assists)
Measuring in at 6’1 185 lbs, Naquin is widely regarded as the best pure hitter in the 2012 draft class. This video shows his solid approach and good plate discipline. He is able to hit the gaps with his controlled swing and makes very good contact. At this point he is purely a doubles guy and he has shown very little power throughout his college career. There are several different opinions on how his power will evolve if at all. Naquin asserts that he does have more pop in the bat but that it was not his job at A&M to be a power hitter. His approach at the plate was never to hit long balls but rather to get on base and set up his teammates. Naquin was quoted as saying, “I feel people read about power numbers, how they need to increase, and I have no doubt that they will,” he said. “I just need to get bigger and stronger and more experience at the next level.” Indians director of amateur scouting Brad Grant also believes that Naquin’s power will develop and is an underrated part of the outfielder’s game, “He’s got really good bat speed. He’s got a knack for centering the baseball, and he drives the ball the opposite way very well. He’s got more power than some guys give him credit for. He has the ability to drive the ball to the gap. He has the ability to turn doubles into triples, and he’ll occasionally pull a ball out of the yard, too.”
Aside from the outstanding pure hitting skills, Naquin has arguably the best outfield arm in the draft as evidenced by his strong OF assist statistics at Texas A&M. His arm strength should allow him to make up a bit for his lack of prototypical center-field speed, but he will need to become more polished at reading balls off the bat and the routes he takes if he does move to center. He spent very little time there at the collegiate level. For the most part any deficiencies that he has are correctable.
With a polished bat like Naquin’s it can be easy to try and push him too quickly through a system but, I think that since a position shift is likely, the Indians would be wise to let him start out at Class-A Lake County to get his feet wet and transition to center or left-field. I think if he can end the season on a high note at Class A-Advanced Carolina he has a shot to start 2013 at Double-A Akron and split time between there and Triple-A Columbus with 2014 being the year he has a chance to break camp with the big club. In my view Naquin has a ceiling of a .300 BA/15 HR/80 R/65 RBI/18 SB hitter and the floor of a league average 4th outfielder with a decent batting average.
The Indians took a more conservative approach than I would have preferred considering the lack of elite talent in their farm system but Naquin is a solid player and should be able to contribute in Cleveland soon. Upon his arrival he will be a part of what is becoming a strong young up-the-middle offensive group with the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana. Naquin will look to prove critics wrong about his lack of power and show that he has some pop in his bat to add a dimension to his game that few have seen. He certainly has room to improve his strength and add some beef to his wiry frame but that will come with time and hard work. His hit tool is outstanding and that should carry him through the low minors as he will face weaker pitching, but if he hopes to contribute to the Indians long term he will need to prove that he has enough juice in his bat to keep pitchers honest and make them pay for challenging him at the dish. All in all not a bad selection for the Indians and only time will tell if taking the polished collegiate hitter will outweigh passing on some of the top tier arms that this systems badly needs.