Tyler Naquin has gone above and beyond what was expected of him coming into this Spring Training.
The 24-year-old has put together one of the best Cactus League stretches in recent memory for the Tribe, hitting .447 through 15 games.
No game was more impressive than Wednesday afternoon, when the First Round Draft-Pick from 2012 went 3-for-3 with a double and two home runs.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) March 23, 2016
Those were his first homers of camp, but he already had two doubles and three triples coming into the game, which means he now has eight extra base hits in 15 games.
He’s a solid center fielder who might be best suited against right handed pitching, but with the Tribe’s outfield situation looking like less of a concern now than it was a month ago, will there be room for Naquin to become the first rookie to start Opening Day for Cleveland since 1986?
It’s a good problem to have compared to where things were at the start of Spring Training, when Michael Brantley was presumed to have no chance of being ready by Opening Day, Abraham Almonte had just recently been suspended for the first 80 games of the season, and the Tribe was giving guys like Collin Cowgill, Will Venable, and other veterans with little success in recent years chances to make the team.
Brantley is recovering much faster than expected and the Tribe recently signed Marlon Byrd, who hit 23 home runs last season and is a proven power bat from the right side of the plate.
Meanwhile, two guys who were expected to be starters on Opening Day, Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis are having a tough time in the desert.
Chisenhall is 1-for-21. It’s only eight games and he played great in the second half of the 2015 season, but to chalk it up to a few bad games and guarantee him a spot is not an easy sell to the fans. In Chisenhall’s defense, however, he is dealing with a minor forearm injury.
Davis has been a little better, hitting just .188 through ten games.
So my question is what more could Naquin have done to make the team?
Maybe the best news of Spring Training for Tribe fans, the speedy recovery of Brantley, will end up forcing Naquin to start the season in Columbus.
But it seems like there should be a way for manager Terry Francona to find room for Naquin.
An outfield of Brantley in left, Naquin in center (against right-handed pitching) and a combination of Byrd/Davis in right looks pretty appealing right now.
Maybe rotate Naquin and Davis based on the lefty/righty matchups.
Chisenhall is out of Minor League options, whereas Naquin still can go back to Triple-A with no issues. So how much does Tito trust Lonnie to get out of this slump?
Offense has been a problem for the Tribe for as long as the ballpark has gone by the name of Progressive. The pitching is there. Can the Tribe afford to let a hot hitter stay down in the Minors simply because he isn’t as experienced as a couple of guys who have struggled all Spring?
It’d be an easier decision if Naquin was even just putting together an above average Spring, but he has been phenomenal all throughout play.