(Photo: Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports)
2020 season age: 29 – Throws: Right – Bats: Left – Contract: $1.45 million (ARB-1)
2019 in review: Up until an unfortunate torn ACL late in the year in Tampa Bay, Naquin was on his way to a productive and valuable year as a platoon/rotational outfield and his best year since his rookie season in 2016. He was hitting .288/.325/.467 with 10 homers, four steals, a 101 wRC+ and was worth 1.5 fWAR in just 88 games. His ACL tear came in September and it is going to cost him his status on Opening Day and probably into April and May, but he seems to be progressing quickly in his recovery.
Beyond the stats: In 2016 Naquin carried an unsustainably high BABIP (.411) but an average exit velocity of 90.1 and a 45.1% hard hit rate certainly boosted it. In 2019 Naqiun showed those batted ball skills again, finishing with a 90.2 average exit velocity but with just a 38.4% hard hit rate. That carried him to a .345 BABIP, which is still unsustainable, but closer something that can carry consistently. His 22% strikeout rate and 4% walk rate still seem to keep his on-base skills below where they could be given his ability to make hard contact when healthy. We know he had injury issues in 2017 and 2018, so we can at least see that when Naquin is healthy he can impact the baseball in a good way. Unfortunately, injuries have been affecting him quite a bit in his minor and major league career.
Offensive impact: Where Naquin fits in 2020 is going to be tough because it’s going to depend on his overall health, of course, but also when he comes back and who is playing in the outfield. Franmil Reyes is going to see time in the OF now, Jordan Luplow is going to get a longer look against right handers, Oscar Mercado has a full time role, Delino DeShields is going to be worked into the mix and Jaker Bauers, maybe even Domingo Santana might be part of the combination. That makes things murky for Naquin’s role and he has two options left. The best case scenario is that the Indians still have a need for a left handed hitting, platoon OF option for the corner OF spots. In 71 plate appearances last year he did have a 98 wRC+ and a 111 mark against right handers, and for his career against left handers he does have an even 100 and 106 against right handers. So maybe there’s an opportunity for more there, in limited samples. But when healthy we can see Naquin has a role as an above average OF with good, albeit limited offensive upside.
Defensive impact: Between left and right field in 2019, Naquin was at zero outs above average. He struggled going back and to his left, at -3 OAA, but was +1 going in and right and +2 going back and right. By outs above average, it was his best defensive year yet. Fangraphs saw him with eight defensive runs saved last year combined, but either way, it’s not a surprise he’s average to above average in the corners and not playing centerfield. We know he has the arm for right field, but he can fill in at either corner outfield spot depending on the Indians need when he does come back.
2020 role: As noted before, it’s hard to know what Naquin’s role is going to be. They have a lot of other options to sort through before Naquin even gets healthy and plays again. Once he’s healthy, it’s going to depend on who is playing outfield at that time and who is playing it well. He was playing well enough to have earned a job starting in 2020 before the injury, and normally Terry Francona and the Indians wouldn’t allow an injury to take a player’s job away, but in this case they do have a lot of bodies to sort through and Naquin does have options. His role will be up in the air until he gets healthy and how the other options are playing.
Fantasy impact: Given that Naqiun is going to start the season in the Injured List and might not have a role on the big league roster when he comes back, he’s not someone to add to your bench, even in a deep league. Keep an eye on the rest of the Indians outfield option, when Naquin is starting his rehab and how that goes before considering him, even then, he’s really only someone worth value in a fantasy league if he’s replacing someone on your roster who is injured, you’re in an AL only league and the league is very deep.