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Injuries shortened Tyler Naquin's great season for the second straight year

2016 could be a make-or-break season for Naquin if he cannot stay healthy.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a wrist injury cutting his 2014 season short after 76 games, Tyler Naquin was mostly a mystery coming into 2015. The former first-round pick had not blown anyone away in his three seasons in the minors, and the Cleveland Indians were stocking up with outfield talent that looked like it would eclipse Naquin's own ceiling. Was he truly the Indians future centerfielder, or would he make it to Triple-A and be stuck as a dreaded "AAAA player?"

Even Terry Francona was not sure what to make of Naquin after he was one of the first players cut in Spring Training prior to the 2015 season:

"He's a good center fielder," said Francona. "I don't think anyone of us know what he's going to grow into. Is he going to be a .300 hitter? Is he going to hit for power? Is he going to steal bases? I don't think anyone knows quite where it's going to go. But it's interesting to watch."

Naquin's 37-career stolen bases and 15 career home runs to that point might suggest he will not be a base stealing phenom or a power hitter, but he proved in 2015 that is a solid defensive outfield and he can get on base at an impressive rate--if only he could stay healthy.

As he had for the last two seasons, Naquin started 2015 playing in Double-A for the Akron Rubberducks. He got off to a hot start, tallying a hit in eight straight games, and never looked back. His .348/.419/468 slash was by far the best line of his career, and he lowered his strikeout rate to 15.0% (down from 20.8% in 2014), and raised his walk rate to 9.4% (up from 8.5% in 2014).

It only took 34 games for the Indians to recognize that Naquin was finally breaking out of his Double-A shell and was ready to move on to Triple-A, and on June 9 Naquin was headed to Columbus. While his numbers were not quite as astronomical as they were in Double-A, he still got on base at a .353 clip, and stole six bases in 50 games for the Columbus Clippers. Naquin also hit six home runs in Triple-A, the second-highest total of his career at any level.

Despite the great year Naquin had statistically, he still could not stay healthy for a full season’s worth of games. The first injury came on July 29 when he was charging for a fly ball and ran hard into an outfield wall. The collision landed him on the seven-day disabled list initially, but he would not see the field again until August 16. Then, eight days later, he was placed on the disabled list again for a hip injury and was ultimately shut down for the season.

Naquin is currently ranked as the Tribe’s #5 prospect. While he is a couple years ahead of top prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier development-wise, his projections do not generate nearly the same level of excitement. Now that Lonnie Chisenhall has proven to at least have a shot at being a right fielder and even Abraham Almonte looks like an option, Naquin faces an uphill battle on his way to the Cleveland Indians Major League roster.

First and foremost, he has to stay healthy. If he can do that for a large part of 2016 in Triple-A he could find himself in the Majors as early as next season. Otherwise, he will still be playing in the minors in 2017 when Zimmer and Frazier are ready to ascend to the next level and it may be too late for Naquin. In favor of having as much talented depth as possible in the Majors, let’s hope for the former.

Team (League) G PA H 1B 2B 3B HR SB AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Akron (AA) 34 160 49 35 12 1 1 7 .348 .419 .468 158
Columbus (AAA) 50 218 49 30 13 0 6 6 .263 .353 .430 127