The Indians surprised everyone last night, selecting Texas A&M outfielder Tyler Naquin with the 15th overall pick in the first round of the MLB draft. I profiled twelve players as potential picks for the Indians, and never in the process of writing either the draft preview or my mock draft did I consider Naquin for the pick. I didn’t have him going anywhere in the first 20 picks. To say that this caught me off guard would be an understatement. In fact, the pick caught pretty much everyone off guard, as most of the conventional wisdom had the Indians taking a college arm, right up to and including the time the Indians were on the clock ready to make their pick. I say pretty much everyone, because I did get an e-mail from one Paul Cousineau a couple hours before the draft asking me if I thought Naquin was in the mix. I chuckled to myself a little, thinking there was no way that was happening. As always, Paulie knows best!
Naquin is a 6’2”, 175lb outfielder who throws righthanded and hits from the left side. He played right field for the Aggies, where he showcased his plus throwing arm. He hit anywhere from first to third in the order, and led the team in hitting with a .380 average. His season line for the Aggies is a solid .380/.458/.541 with 3 HR, 49 RBI and 21 steals in 26 attempts. He hit 6 triples, 18 2B and scored a team-high 56 runs. In 242 at-bats, he’s struck out 37 times and walked 25. The production is there, and in one of the top college programs in the country. His hit tool is considered to be one of the best in the draft, with scouts hanging a 50 current grade with a future 60 on that aspect of his game. He has a sweet lefthanded swing, and when he gets a ball down in the zone he does a nice job dropping his hands but keeping his swing level and hitting line drives. As the 3 HR this year would indicate though, his power is a below-average tool, and projects to stay that way. Because of that, many experts are calling him a “tweener” in the OF. He’s seen by some as a guy who can’t quite play CF defensively, but also won’t hit for enough power to play in a corner. He has a narrow base and high hands atsetup, both things that cause his swing to be a little longer than it shouldbe, and both things that the Indians developmental staff will likely try toadjust once they get their hands on him.
Defensively, Naquin’s best tool is his arm. It’s being called the best in the draft by many, and grades out as high as a 70. As the 21 SB would indicate, he’s also got plus speed. He wasn’t necessarily in RF collegiately because he couldn’t handle CF, but because A&M had an even faster player on their roster that they had in center. He’s not a sure-thing to be able to handle the transition up the middle of the diamond, but he’ll probably get a shot to prove he can make the switch. In his pre-draft rankings, ESPN’s Keith Law wrote that “…there’s no reason Naquin couldn’t handle center in pro ball given reps out there…his ceiling is an above-average everyday CF who adds value with his glove, his legs, and by getting on base.” He’s made atleast one spectacular play in RF, robbing a HR in conference play against theBaylor Bears.
Pre-draft rankings aren’t everything, but Keith Law had him ranked #42 overall, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo had him pegged at #30, and Baseball America slotted him as the #25 player in the draft. All numbers indicative of a first round or at worst sandwich pick, but no one had him going in the top 15. It’s unclear as to whether he was really the top player on the Indians board when the 15th pick came around, or if they saw him as a good value pick that they could sign for less than slot and save the remaining $$ for picks later in the draft. With the new draft rules giving teams a finite amount of money to spend, it’s important to plan well and get the most out of all of your picks. If Naquin can play CF and he signs for less than the $2,250,000 slot, then the pick could be a steal. If he proves to lack the defensive chops for CF and his power projection is what it is, then it could end up being a reach. His ceiling is probably a .310/.380/.450 guy with 15 or so HR and 30 SB, with above-average defense in CF. If he turns into that, then Antonetti and company have hit a home run. Bottom line, unlike last year, we really won’t know how good of a pick this was in context until the rest of the draft plays out. Have I mentioned that I hate the new draft rules?