Now that we have decided not to sign Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis and assuming our bullpen trio is healthy and productive and remains so, there is no bigger question mark on the 2017 Indians than Tyler Naquin.
Has the league caught up to him using the Cubs blueprint or will Naquin adjust yet again. For those of you who don't remember, Naquin was hitting well early in 2016 despite only getting rare chances to play in the first few weeks of the season, something that would cause most players to imitate the tin man at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz. However, when Naquin played, he hit, yet he was sent to the minors with a number of goals, the most out-front of which was to learn to take a walk. He accomplished that goal and was brought back up to the majors where he prospered against righties.
To me that was all very impressive for a rookie who I felt had the ceiling of a very good 4th outfielder on a 5 outfielder team.
Then there was the post-season. Remember it is possible, maybe likely, that the reason the Indians didn't bring back Napoli and didn't extend their budget to bring back Davis was because of their post-season flops. But Naquin, who was less of a factor than the two above-mentioned veterans, remains.
Is he an integral part of the 2017 Indians? Will he have a breakout year, continuing to show that when given a challenge (like the bases on ball thing last year) he has the tools to make the necessary adjustments. Or will he finally be exposed and fade off into obscurity? This sounds like baseball's version of the popular HG TV show. We could call it: "Rip or Flop". Will the relationship between the Indians and Naquin end up flourishing or in divorce? Only time will tell.
As a veteran prognosticator (translation: a guy who isn't afraid to guess on what will happen but rarely has any more clue than the next guy) I can't even begin to imagine how this will go. I will say this. Francona does not cut young players any slack. If he thinks Naquin is not going to help him win but he is stuck with Naquin on the roster, he simply won't play him in the way necessary to get Naquin to optimize his performance. If Francona is impressed with how Naquin looks when he comes to spring training and sees his value, Naquin will get every chance and more (is that even mathematically possible?) to prove he can help the team win, despite what Chernoff and Antonetti might think. And Tito is usually right, or at least that is what I have seen so far.
So that is my answer of what to make of Naquin: If Tito likes him Naquin will likely prosper to some level. Whether that level is good enough to be a starting OFer on a playoff team will be decided this year. If Francona doesn't like him out of ST, don't be surprised if the 3rd place finisher in last year's ROY balloting ends up beginning and spending a lot of 2017 in the minors. If the latter happens, Naquin is likely gone next off-season and NOT for very much in return. He then would likely go the way of the Chad Huffmans of the world and just bounce around from organization to organization.
So let's hope Naquin reaches his potential in 2017, which, to me, is about 30% better, all things considered, than his play last year. If that happens, we have a keeper here as Naquin has shown me that he learns a lot from past experiences. And we have a keeper who is cheap for years to come and a young guy who can continue to grow on our fan base. Think a poor man's Grady Sizemore in Sizemore's prime. I'll take that any day of the week in Cleveland.