Tyler Naquin knows Goodyear, Arizona. For each of the last eight Februaries, he has called it home, cruising past The Ziz to ply his trade on the baseball fields in preparation for the Major League season ahead.
Today’s news confirms Naquin will make that routine last into a ninth year, as the Cincinnati Reds announced earlier Thursday that he’d been added on a minor league contract with an invited to big league camp.
Naquin, of course, had been something of a regular for Cleveland since the 2016 season, clubbing 31 homers for them in 325 appearances over the previous five seasons. In that time, he posted an even 100 OPS+ while playing all across the outfield, often times tasked with perhaps a larger role than should have been placed on his shoulders as Cleveland struggled to formulate anything akin to a potent outfield conglomeration.
Said problems eventually included Naquin, who slumped to a .632 OPS (68 OPS+) during the shortened 2020 season, and that paired with an overall drop from his impressive rookie campaign in 2016 led Cleveland to non-tender him as he entered arbitration for the second time. The .886 OPS (128 OPS+) he posted in that 2016 season earned him a 3rd place spot in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but he has only managed a .702 OPS (84 OPS+) in somewhat sparse action (209 G) in the four seasons that have followed.
Still, there’s enough about his current game to warrant some optimism. A lefty bat, he’s a career .281/.329/.454 hitter against RHP at the big league level, dwarfing the .230/.287/.378 mark he’s limped to against LHP. So while an everyday OF he certainly is not at this juncture, at least his foibles are defined enough with the bat to see where a platoon role could, in theory, be something in which he could excel. Defensively, he’s far from a Gold Glover in the outfield, but he does have enough competent experience in both center and the corners to be serviceable, versatility that is a bonus with the return of traditional DH-free NL play (and the double switches that come with it).
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect about Naquin right now, though, is that he’s got minor league options remaining. While not on the roster as of right now, adding him with the ability to keep him in AAA Louisville as a depth piece would help sure up the team’s depth there, something that has seen a ton of turnover in recent seasons. Phil Ervin, Shed Long, Jose Siri, Brian O’Grady, Stu Fairchild, and Josh VanMeter have all departed in recent memory, and that loss of depth paired with Aristides Aquino being out of options means there’s certainly a need for an OF with big league experience as a depth piece alongside other recent additions (like Scott Heineman).
There’s a crowded path to big league playing time here, obviously, but it’s never a bad option to have a former 1st round draft pick with ample big league experience around when the cost is as low risk as this. Not to mention, he can show fellow Texas A&M products Christian Roa and Ryan Hendrix the ropes while in camp.