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2017 IBI Preview Capsule: Tyler Naquin

Tyler Naquin was at the center of one of the more memorable moments in modern Indians history with his walkoff, inside-the-park home run against the Blue Jays last season. Can he build off his 2016 campaign that earned him a top three finish in the Rookie of the Year voting?

The IBI Preview Capsules are back for 2017 as Jake Dungan takes an in-depth look at all the players who could impact the Tribe in the upcoming season from the established stars to the prospects on the verge of being called up to the majors to the non-roster invites to spring training.

Tyler Naquin, CF

Throws: Right -- Bats: Left -- Entering his age-26 season -- Contract: Pre-arbitration (Eligible for arbitration in 2019)

2016 In Review: Last year was, overall, an impressive rookie campaign for Tyler Naquin as he finished batting .296 with 14 homers and 43 RBI's while scoring 52 runs and stealing six bases in nine attempts. Of course, his season was highlighted by his dramatic walkoff, inside-the-park homer, but he had a number of other impactful moments throughout the season. However, he also had weaknesses exposed as the season such as his defense and struggles against left-handed pitching. Plus, his numbers took a hit late in the season and into the playoffs batting just .234 with two homers and 11 RBI's over the last two months of the regular season and just .174 with no homers and two RBI's over 11 postseason games. Despite his accolades from last season, the chances of him starting in center field for the Tribe in 2017, or even making the opening day roster are currently up in the air.

Versus Right-handers: Naquin had his way with right-handed pitching last year batting .301 with an .898 OPS as all 14 of his homers and 19 of his other 23 extra-base hits coming with a right-hander on the mound. Of course, Naquin only had 40 plate appearances against southpaws as the right-handed Rajai Davis shouldered most of that workload. Most of his minor league career has reaped similar splits with batting averages at or close to .300 and OPS marks around .800 against right-handers. The Indians signed veteran center fielder Austin Jackson, likely with the idea of replacing Davis. Also, Abraham Almonte will be back without disciplinary restrictions in 2017. However, Naquin could still potentially serve as a left-handed platoon bat.

Versus Left-handers: While his splits against left-handed pitching were substantially lower, Naquin didn't perform especially badly against them last year posting a .250/.368/.406 slash line. Even in limited exposure, the Texas native drew six walks while striking out only seven times. There's probably not much more ceiling to those numbers, however, as the 25-year-old has always had lesser splits against left-handers in the minors, other than his debut season in 2012. If Jackson and/or Almonte make the roster along with Naquin, the chances of him facing many southpaws will likely be the same as last year.

Defense: The issues Naquin showed on defense last season were not only surprising after the high marks he's gotten for his fielding in the minors, but they were poor enough to call his future at the position into question. In 799.2 innings in center, the former Tribe first round pick posted -17 DRS and a -5.1 UZR. That -17 defensive runs saved mark ranked as the fourth worst among all position players in baseball with at least 700 innings under their belts. While Naquin wasn't an elite-level fielder in the minor leagues, he still got plus to plus-plus grades (60-70) for his defense and his arm strength/accuracy by Baseball Prospectus. In fact, it was his bat that scouts were more worried about. That being considered, maybe a move back towards the mean will be in store for 2017 as far as his defense.

Fantasy Impact: The dreaded "sophomore slump" looms ahead for Naquin in 2017 as he will have to make counter-adjustments as teams and pitchers now have a book on him and his weaknesses. Some might say that process already began towards the end of last season. Steamer and Depth Charts both project regression for the Tribe outfielder with a .262/.329/.407 slash line. However, both models see him hitting double-digit home runs and compiling a positive value of 1.0 to 1.2 WAR. Of course, Naquin has to make the team first before he can provide any fantasy value and, as mentioned before, that is not a given with Jackson and Almonte also vying for the center field job.

Summary: Naquin's 2016 season could be summed up like this: is he as good a hitter as he was during the first four months of the season? Probably not. Is he as bad defensively in center field as he was last year? It wouldn't seem likely given his previous high marks he had received in the minors. So if some regression/progression to the mean is in order this season, exactly how much could be expected and will his improved fielding offset the decline in his offense? If he does make the roster out of spring training he will either be in a platoon with Abraham Almonte in center field or he'll be on the bench as a fourth outfielder with Jackson getting most of the playing time in center. Either way, Naquin will likely get the majority of his playing time and at-bats against right-handed pitching. With Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen waiting in the wings, however, 2017 may be now-or-never time for Naquin to establish himself, at least with the Indians.

Check out our other 2017 Preview Capsules here:

Jake Dungan is the Managing Editor for IBI and a podcast host on the Smoke Signals Network. Email him at jdungan@indiansbaseballinsider.com or follow him on Twitter @JakeDBaseball.


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