Rookie Naquin surging as confidence grows

Tribe excited by young outfielder's success as he steps up

Rookie Naquin surging as confidence grows

CLEVELAND -- All Tyler Naquin has done this season is answer the call. When a roster spot opened in the spring, the rookie center fielder turned in a torrid showing at the plate to win a job. Since being called up from the Minors six weeks ago, Naquin has played like he never wants to be sent down again.

There was little for the Tribe to celebrate after Sunday's 11-7 loss to the Yankees, but there was a moment of inspiring fight within the defeat. Cleveland answered a six-run outburst in the top of the fifth with a six-run showing of its own, and Naquin capped off the mid-game rally with a majestic home run that sank into a sea of fans in right field.
 

Indians plate six in the 5th

"He's got such quick hands," Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. "That curveball today, he just hammered it."

In a season that has included plenty of turmoil in the outfield for the Tribe, Naquin has been a godsend.

The Indians have only had star left fielder Michael Brantley for 11 games this year as he continues a comeback bid from offseason surgery on his right shoulder. Cleveland played the first 81 games without a suspended Abraham Almonte, who has looked rusty upon his return. At the start of June, veteran Marlon Byrd -- like Almonte -- was hit with a ban for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

For Naquin, all the setbacks have created opportunity.

"He has been unbelievably productive," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It kind of gets exciting, because we knew he was learning on the run, and you never quite know what a young player is going to be. We still don't know what [he'll become], but it's kind of been fun to watch."

The two-run homer off Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka in the fifth inning Sunday marked Naquin's ninth of the season for the Indians. Through 58 games and 159 at-bats, the left-handed-swinging center fielder has turned in a .314/.374/.591 slash line to go along with 21 extra-base hits, 22 RBIs and 26 runs scored. His 155 weighted Runs Created Plus ranks ninth in the Majors among batters with at least 150 plate appearances.

Most of Naquin's power production has come since June 1, though.

A roster crunch led to his demotion back to Triple-A Columbus in mid-May, even with Naquin hitting over .300 at the time. Back then, however, the young outfielder had no homers, struggled with patience and looked overmatched by fastballs at times. A lot has changed since that early showing.

Following Byrd's suspension, Naquin returned to the Majors at the start of June, and the center fielder has not looked back. He is one of 23 big leaguers with nine or more homers since June 1, and his .708 slugging percentage in that span is near the top of baseball.

"He's got power," Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said. "You can see it in BP. When he barrels a ball, it carries, and it carries to all parts of the park. It's just a matter of consistently barreling balls in the game and getting the ball in the air, and it's going to carry, because he does have power. I've always seen him as a guy who's going to hit 15-20 homers."

Naquin had a simple explanation for his recent success.

"I'm just getting comfortable," Naquin said this weekend. "I'm starting to feel like I belong in there and sticking with the same routine. … Whenever you feel like you belong, whenever you really feel comfortable and confident, it's another day at the ballpark, and you feel good about yourself."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.