Naquin finds comfort zone in strong spring

Naquin finds comfort zone in strong spring

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Tyler Naquin's locker in the Indians' Spring Training clubhouse is right by the front door. He seems to like it that way, being the closest to the field. He can get there before anyone else each morning if he gets ready quick enough.

That's what it's all about for Naquin, 24, the 15th overall selection in the 2012 Draft and an up-and-coming outfielder in the Indians' system: working toward the ultimate goal with a smile on his face. In his third big league camp, he says that's the easy part.

Indians Spring Training info

"It's awesome," said Naquin, Cleveland's No. 9 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com. "Absolutely awesome. There's a bunch of great guys in here that make it that way. I've been around [Jason] Kipnis and [Michael] Brantley and [Lonnie] Chisenhall quite a bit, and the new guys are great, too. I feel a little more comfortable, and they help make it that way."

Naquin's been playing like he's at ease. Through Monday's 4-2 win over the Rangers, he was slashing .417/.440/.667 in 24 at-bats with two doubles, two triples and three runs scored.

Naquin gives Tribe two-run lead

"He's having a really good spring," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "It's 20 at-bats, and it's still early March, but I don't want to downplay it, either. It's the first time he's been healthy in a while. He's been really beat up. Some freaky things, ran into a wall, but you can tell he's healthy, and I think he's enjoying being healthy.

"So regardless of what this next three weeks [brings], regardless of what happens, he's in a really good position. And he's taken advantage of his playing time, for sure. He's been a really good center fielder and he's had some really good at-bats."

According to Naquin, that's part of a plan coming to fruition.

"Just play hard," he said of his goals this spring. "I'm going to outplay everybody else, in my eyes, by just playing hard, and I'm going to stick to a routine and an approach. Just do what I can to stay consistent because I want to help this team win."

Ramirez gets time in center

Jose Ramirez usually plays shortstop, third base and second base, but he did play two games in left field with the Indians last season, and he started in center field against the Rangers on Monday.

"We'd like to see him out there," Francona said. "Having his ability to go out there can be really helpful. Because when he's swinging the bat like he really can, he can be a weapon for us."

Ramirez never got into a groove offensively last year, with a .219/.291/.340 line. He drew 32 walks last year while striking out 39 times in 315 at-bats, and he had good on-base percentage numbers at several Minor League stops. Ramirez, who won't be 24 until September, went 2-for-2 with a sacrifice fly RBI on Monday and is batting .379 with two homers this spring.

"So just to limit him to infield doesn't seem to make sense," Francona said. "If he can go out there and play it, whether it's left or center, that can really help us."

Ramirez played the position smoothly until the top of the fifth inning, when he appeared to lose a Prince Fielder fly ball in the sun, putting Fielder on second with a double.

"Tough field," Francona said. "It's not just him. Whether it's us or the visiting team, that is the toughest sun field. But the good part is that he felt good out there. … He saw the ball and he got some pretty good jumps."

Francona said Ramirez could see more time in the outfield during the week.

Dr. Smooth inching closer

Brantley (right shoulder labrum repair surgery) is taking batting practice on the field, but Francona said, "I don't think we can put a timetable [on a return to the lineup]."

"I think it's going to be when he accomplishes everything and he and the trainers feel he's ready to play in a game," Francona said. "And we may be able to handle that a little bit when the Minor Leagues have a camp day, we might be able to get him at-bats and work into it, so there's ways we can do it to kind of maybe shorten that up a little bit."

Worth noting

• Francona said reliever Craig Stammen (right flexor tendon repair) is still "on his program" but not ready to pitch in games.

• Catcher Yan Gomes went 2-for-3 with a home run (his third of the spring) and a double on Monday and has homered in consecutive games to raise his spring batting average to .350.

"I know he feels good, because he should," Francona said. "He's worked hard all offseason. It's nice to see him have success just to reinforce the things he's doing. But he really looks good."

• Closer Cody Allen made his fourth appearance of the spring and it was a clean one. Allen completed a scoreless inning, giving up one hit and striking out a batter. It lowered his spring ERA to 9.82.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.