Naquin impresses with 6 RBIs against Royals

Indians outfielder making strong case for AL Rookie of Year Award

Naquin impresses with 6 RBIs against Royals

KANSAS CITY -- Tyler Naquin needed a hat. When reporters approached him at his locker on Wednesday, and the Indians rookie outfielder saw that he would be on camera, he realized he had already packed his away for the team's trip to Baltimore.

There were some hats in a large duffel bag a few steps from his stall inside the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, where he had just launched two homers and six RBIs in an 11-4 rout of the Royals. So, Naquin grabbed one, toyed with the brim and tried it on.

"Is this one OK?" Naquin asked the group of media.

Actually, no. Naquin's ears were tucked under the sides.

In that moment, Naquin looked very much like a rookie. In the batter's box, however, the center fielder has played like a seasoned veteran. Dating to his return from Triple-A Columbus at the start of June, Naquin has been one of baseball's best hitters, and he has shown some surprising power over the course of what is now almost a two-month sample size.

In Wednesday's win, Naquin became the first Tribe rookie to have a multi-homer game that included at least six RBIs since 1986 (Cory Snyder), while no rookie had enjoyed a six-RBI game since 1990 (Turner Ward). This is hardly about one spectacular game, though.

One year after Francisco Lindor finished as the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, the Indians look like they have another legitimate candidate. Naquin's 2.2 WAR, according to Fangraphs.com, ranks first in the AL among rookie hitters, and fourth in the Majors.

"We talk about it from time to time with young players," manager Terry Francona said. "It's kind of fun to watch and see what they turn into. Right in front of our eyes, we're seeing a kid get better at the Major League level. That's kind of fun to watch."

In the third inning, Naquin slashed a pitch from Ian Kennedy to left field for a leadoff homer.

"Not easy to do," Francona said.

Naquin followed that blast with a two-run double into the right-field corner in the fourth. Then, during the Indians' seven-run flurry in the fifth inning, Naquin drilled an offering from Peter Moylan to straightaway center.

"That's kind of big boy area," Francona said.

The 25-year-old Naquin -- Cleveland's top pick in the 2012 Draft -- has held his own all year, hitting .324 in 63 games.

Dating to his first game back from the Minors on June 2, Naquin has launched all 12 of his home runs. He never had more than 10 in any of his Minor League campaigns. Naquin's rate of one homer every 9.4 at-bats on average in that time period ranks second to only Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion (8.8), among players with at least 10 homers in that span.

Since June 2, Naquin has turned in a .327/.411/.761 slash line in 113 at-bats.

Asked if he has surprised himself with his power, Naquin shook his head.

"Not at all," he said. "I believe that if you put in the right work, if you work for something and it happens, you shouldn't be surprised at all."

As for his success since rejoining the Indians, Naquin said it is simple, really.

"Confidence has to do with everything, and feeling comfortable," Naquin said. "It's just being comfortable in the box at the next level."

Naquin, who found a hat that fit right on the second try, added that he is hardly worrying about any accolades at season's end.

"We've got a long road ahead," Naquin said. "My goal is not Rookie of the Year. My goal is to win a whole lot and go to the championship and win the World Series, and help this ballclub."

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.