A month after being drafted 15th overall in 2012, Tyler Naquin talked about how his approach to hitting is “very simple” and about how he’d “never had a hitting instructor.” A little more than 18 months later, the 22-year-old outfield prospect is a more-refined version of the same player. He is also the most promising young hitter in the Cleveland Indians system.
Naquin spent most of his first full professional season at High-A Carolina, where his left-handed stroke produced a .275/.345/.424 slash line. He subsequently scuffled in an 18-game stint at Double-A Akron, but rebounded to hit .339 in the Arizona Fall League. Along the way, he made subtle, yet meaningful, adjustments.
Naquin talked about his developmental strides, and his expectations of hitting for plus-power, late last week.
Naquin on his willingness to learn: “You have to be open-minded to things. I’m going to listen to whatever these guys want me to do. I’m going to make adjustments, and if we see they’re good for me, then obviously I’m going to keep on grinding it out.
“I have a great relationship with all of the Indians staff. We understand each other real well. It’s a matter of finding what works for you, because not everybody is the same.
“I’ve always been a good hitter and had a feel for hitting. But that doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. Just because I went out and hit almost .400 in college and won a couple of [Big 12] batting titles doesn’t mean I’m going to do that at the next level. You have to always keep learning. I like to think Derek Jeter doesn’t have it completely figured out. He’s a great player, but in the game of baseball, you have to try to keep getting one percent better every day.
“Little adjustments can help. I feel if you can take one little thing from every other session in the cage, you keep building them up. Before long, you have a strong foundation to hit from.”
On his adjustments: “I started out hitting real tall, with my hands up high. They wanted to widen me out. When I got to the Fall League, I kind of found a happy medium. That’s what we were shooting for. We were making adjustments.
“My strikeouts went up. My pitch location got a little haywire about midway through the season, but you have to go through those struggles to find the happy medium. That’s eventually what happened, and when I got to Arizona — against the best competition — it seemed to all start coming together for me.
“We made it just a little bit wider, maybe a shoulder width apart, just to be able to use the ground for more power. It gives me more of a foundation from the ground up. I also lowered my hands, but not a whole lot. My stance is pretty much the same, just a little bit wider and a little bit lower with the hands.”
On trusting the process: “It can be hard to not focus on the numbers, but I think I have a pretty good handle on that. I can probably go out on a limb and say there are a whole bunch of players who didn’t hit .300 every year in minor league baseball, and now they’re hitting .290 to .315 in the major leagues.
“You have to go through the process. As they like to say, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s just something you’re going to have to suck up and deal with. You’re going to have to make adjustments. My goal isn’t to look back in 20 years and tell my kids, ‘Hey, I hit .340 in Double-A.’ No. Nobody remembers what you did in Double-A. The legacy you build begins with your major league debut and extends to when you retire. And that’s if you have the luxury of retiring. You might get let go.
“You have to pay your time to get up there with the big league guys. It’s not like the Indians’ coordinators are out to get me. It’s not, `We picked Naquin in the first round, so let‘s see if he can make it up there on his own.’ That’s clearly not the case. They want to help. They have my best interests in mind and want me to get to the big leagues as fast as I can, and help win a World Series.”
On home runs and stolen bases: “A lot of people thought I wouldn’t hit but two or three home runs. And it’s not really about the swing; it’s mostly about experience on how to hit a baseball. I rolled out my first year and hit 10. I think that surprised a lot of people. I believe that once I get to the big leagues, I could be a 20- to 25-a-year guy.
“I think I am [creating more backspin]. Backspin is big. Being able to turn on an inside pitch, and lift it, is a big deal for me if I want to be able to drive that ball out.
“Stealing bases is another thing I’d like to do better. Leaving the stadium [at Indians Fan Fest], I was talking to Kenny Lofton. He said, ‘Man, they like you a lot. What is something you need to work on to get to the big leagues and stay there?’ I said, `Well, probably stealing bases.’ We ended up talking about that for about 10 minutes.”
On strikeouts and OBP: “You have more control over things like your walks and strikeouts than your RBIs. You have to be in a situation for an RBI. Other guys have to set that table up for you. Hitting in the middle of an order is a luxury, but if you have a good bottom of your lineup, hitting first or second can be a luxury too. Everybody has a chance for some RBIs. But you obviously need guys on base for that to happen. On-base percentage is important. Everything is about getting on base, because a team needs to score runs to win.
“With your walks-to-strikeouts ratio… say you’re a guy who doesn’t strike out a lot, but your coordinators want you to make a change. If you need to make a change and are worried because you don’t want people seeing you’re striking out more often, well, that’s the point where you can become uncoachable. You have to throw all that stuff out the window in order to get better.
“My strikeouts did go up. But when I got to the Fall League, they went way down, and my walks were probably even better than they should have been. I trusted the process, and it panned out for me at the end — those  games and 115 at bats in the Fall League.”
On his 2013 highlights and lowlights: “Going to the All-Star game was a highlight. But really, working with our coordinators and learning the process is probably even bigger. It’s fun to learn and get better. Even if you’re striking out more in the process, you know you’re on your way to the big leagues. You can either decide to go with the help they’re offering, or you can decide to go down. I decided to grasp it, and that’s honestly my biggest highlight.
“As for the lowlights, I suppose it was just the grind. Your body takes a beating. Maybe that’s not really a lowlight, but rather part of what you go through in pro ball. For my first full season, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I’ve put on 15 pounds — I’m 187 pounds now — and feel I’m ready to go out there and be an everyday center fielder.
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