"We kind of knew that we probably had an outfielder too much," manager Terry Francona said. "When you look at making the lineups and everything, I was having a tough time getting a little bit of a rotation going where I felt comfortable. OK, so when we get Cody back, we know we're going to need to get rid of an outfielder. Because [Naquin] has options left, it seems like the [logical move]."
With left fielder Michael Brantley and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall back from their early-season stints on the disabled list, the Indians have a variety of options for the outfield. While Rajai Davis handles the bulk of the time in center field, Brantley can slide over from left and play up the middle, too. Cleveland also has corner-outfield options in Marlon Byrd and Jose Ramirez.
While Naquin offered a true backup for center behind Davis, the Indians also have given reps at that position to Chisenhall (during his Minor League rehab assignment earlier this season) and Ramirez (during this past Spring Training). It is possible that those two could see limited innings in center, if needed.
"I think Lonnie will take some more balls out there," Francona said. "We could put Jose there. I'll work through that a little bit. I don't know quite how I feel about that, yet. I think you'll probably see Lonnie out there, just because I think looking at his skill-set, there's no reason he shouldn't be a good center fielder. And then that allows us to play Byrd in right some, so that's good."
In 22 games this season, the 25-year-old Naquin turned in a .315/.327/.426 slash line with four extra-base hits, two RBIs, eight runs scored and 19 strikeouts compared to one walk. The plus defense that Naquin displayed throughout the Minor Leagues was not as evident on the big league stage. Through 136 1/3 innings in center, he had minus-two Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-31.7 UZR/150 for the Tribe.
Francona noted the Indians have been working with Naquin on his first-step quickness and defensive routes, and the center fielder will continue to hone that aspect of his game at Triple-A.
Naquin -- a first-round pick by the Indians in the 2012 Draft -- has hit .287 with a .777 OPS in 322 career Minor League games. This spring, the left-handed-hitting outfielder posted a .397 average to go along with a 1.203 OPS in 22 games, helping him win a spot on Cleveland's Opening Day roster.
"Offensively, I thought he did a pretty good job of holding his [own]," Francona said. "He was hitting .300. He was hitting at the bottom of the order, but doing a pretty good job. We tried to explain to him last night, being a Major League center fielder, and what that entails on a good team. And he understood. His level of maturity kind of took us all aback last night.
"This is a tough thing. I don't care who you are or where you are, going down is not what you want to hear. And his level of maturity was unbelievable. ... When he comes back, it's not like he's hitting .050 here and he's got to fight an uphill battle. He knows he's cared about here. He knows he has friends here. He knows he can hit. He's in a good spot, and I just wanted to make sure we reminded him of that, because I believe it."