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Cleveland Indians: Is Tyler Naquin the solution in center field?

Maybe eventually, but not right now.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

While this is not a question I have been asked directly, I see it pop up a lot of the time around Indians Twitter and various other places: Why is Tyler Naquin seemingly being ignore for the Cleveland Indians starting center fielder in 2016? The Tribe has explored every outfielder imaginable to plug into center field in 2016, including trades and free agent options. But they have a former first-round draft pick knocking on the door of the Majors, why not let him do it?

Ever since being drafted in 2012, Naquin has not developed as quickly as the Indians probably would have liked, mostly due to injuries. Most recently, his 2015 season ended in August following a hard collision with an outfield wall that resulted in a concussion, then a hip injury that shut him down for the remainder of the year. A similar situation occurred in 2014 when a wrist injury ended his season after only 76 games.

To his credit, Naquin has bounced back well from every injury, and at least statistically, he has performed well at every level in the minors. His strikeout rate has stayed in the low-20s, and his walk rate reached double digits in Triple-A for the first time since Low-A ball in 2012.

Naquin probably will never have the kind of power to hit 20 home runs in the Majors, but he does have the ability to rack up extra base hits while making a ton of contact. In recent years, he has improved his ability to do more than just hit to opposite field, but he has not had the time to refine his approach as much as he (and surely the Indians) would like before making a Major League debut due to seasons constantly being cut short.

Right now, seemingly the only option the Indians have for an everyday center fielder is Abraham Almonte. Honest Abe was either spectacular or average, depending on which game you watched in his short stint on the Indians in 2015 after being acquired from the San Diego Padres. He finished the year slashing .264/.321/.455 (111 wRC+), more than serviceable for a center fielder if he can play great defense, but STEAMER has him dropping back down to .247/.308/.371 (87 wRC+). For a team that should have playoff aspirations this year, that is something the Indians should be looking to improve upon for a whole season.

To address that, the Indians have mostly signed pieces that complement Almonte, but not take over the position entirely. Collin Cowgill, who the Indians acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for cash considerations, has limited experience in center field, but he should remain mostly in the corner.

Naquin is a potential solution; he is just not the best one right now. The high probability of him being injured is enough for the Indians to consider another option--they cannot hinge their most important outfield position on someone who has such trouble staying healthy. And, even if he does stay healthy, his bat still needs some work.

Naquin can play defense well enough to remain in center field, but he probably will not be much help in the lineup right away. If he cannot be a better offensive option than Almonte is there any reason to hand over the reins without exploring other options? For a team as desperate for offense as the Indians, the answer is mostly likely no.

I do not doubt that Naquin will make the Indians sometime in 2016, but I would not expect it to be straight out of Spring Training as the starting center fielder. Both because he is not quite ready, and because the Indians could easily still sign a legitimate starting center fielder before the season rolls around. If Naquin looks healthy and outperforming the competition a Triple-A early in the season, do not be shocked to see him get called up relatively quick, however.