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Aggressive Naquin to battle for big league job

With Almonte suspended 80 games, outfielder prospect could make Indians roster
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is an old baseball adage that says a player should be willing to run through a wall for his team. Indians outfield prospect Tyler Naquin put that familiar cliche to the test last fall and found out that the wall has a pretty strong reputation for staying put.

Naquin claims to only have one gear, and his all-out approach led to a stint on the disabled list after he crashed hard into the center-field wall at Huntington Park in a game with Triple-A Columbus last July. The young outfielder shrugs off the play as just part of the game, and he has no plans of slowing down near the Goodyear Ballpark wall this spring if there is a catch to be made.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is an old baseball adage that says a player should be willing to run through a wall for his team. Indians outfield prospect Tyler Naquin put that familiar cliche to the test last fall and found out that the wall has a pretty strong reputation for staying put.

Naquin claims to only have one gear, and his all-out approach led to a stint on the disabled list after he crashed hard into the center-field wall at Huntington Park in a game with Triple-A Columbus last July. The young outfielder shrugs off the play as just part of the game, and he has no plans of slowing down near the Goodyear Ballpark wall this spring if there is a catch to be made.

"I'm going to do that every single time," Naquin said on Saturday. "I'm going to play hard for my team. You kind of earn a little respect when you play hard like that."

Naquin exits after crashing into wall

This spring, Naquin is trying to earn more than respect, though.

Almonte takes responsibility for 80-game suspension

Cleveland has outfield jobs to offer, and Naquin is in the thick of the Spring Training competition. Left fielder Michael Brantley is not expected to be ready for Opening Day due to offseason surgery on his right shoulder and Abraham Almonte is facing an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. That means the Tribe has at least two spots up for grabs, with a long list of names to consider.

If the Indians are going to consider one of their top outfield prospects, Naquin will probably be the player picked for the job. Minor League outfielder James Ramsey is also in the fold this spring, along with an assortment of other roster and non-roster players who offer big league experience. Two players who are not in camp are prospects Brad Zimmer and Clint Frazier, and do not expect that to change.

Indians manager Terry Francona said it is premature to think Zimmer or Frazier -- ranked first and second, respectively, on MLB.com's Top 30 Indians prospects list -- could help the Major League team right now.

"They're definitely two of our more high-profile prospects," Francona said. "They're just not far enough along in their progression. For somebody to expect them to give us a lift, that's not fair to the players. I think at some point we think both of them are going to help us, but oh boy, that wouldn't be fair."

Francona was quick to note that the 23-year-old Zimmer (selected in the first round of the 2014 Draft) is coming off a season in which he played through a hairline fracture in his right foot for a couple of months. The manager also pointed out that the 21-year-old Frazier (picked in the first round of the '13 Draft) has yet to log a single plate appearance above Class A Advanced Lynchburg.

Naquin, on the other hand, is in his third big league Spring Training and spent a portion of last season at Triple-A.

Video: Top Prospects: Tyler Naquin, OF, Indians

"We told Naquin," Francona said, "and this was even before Abe [was suspended], that he's right smack in the middle of some competition. Now, there may be a guy this spring that hits .500, and he might not make the club. We need to balance a lot of different things: roles, positions, things like that. But, more often than not, if a guy comes in and has a good camp, you put yourself in a good light.

"We told him that it might not always happen on your timetable or your schedule, but if you can help a Major League team, usually you find a way to help."

Selected in the first round of the 2012 Draft, the 24-year-old Naquin hit .300 with seven home runs, 25 doubles, 27 RBIs, 50 runs and 13 steals in 84 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last season. The start of his season was delayed by a quad injury, he missed 17 days in August while dealing with concussion symptoms and he sat out the final handful of games due to a hip issue.

This past winter, though, Naquin took part in a two-month strength-and-conditioning camp with the Indians, putting on more muscle and weight to further protect him from injuries.

"Playing hard, you're going to get banged up," said Naquin, who is the Tribe's ninth-best prospect per MLB.com. "[The strength camp] was probably the best decision I've made. I'm getting stronger and faster and ready to be able to play every single day."

Naquin would love to have that chance with Cleveland.

"I would love to make the team out of camp," he said. "I'm just going to work. Work, work, work."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

 

Cleveland Indians, Tyler Naquin