- Born: April 24, 1991
- Finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2016.
- Once hit a walk-off inside-the-park home run, which is incredibly rare and extremely cool.
- Can become the third player selected in the first round of the 2012 draft to play for the Reds, none of whom were the player the Reds actually drafted that year.
- Was a 33rd round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2009, but chose to attend Texas A&M. Cleveland drafted him 15th overall in 2012.
- Debuted on April 5, 2016.
- Was non-tendered by Cleveland following the 2020 season, two years before service time would have granted him free agency.
- Signed a minor league deal with Cincinnati on February 18, 2021.
Tater Naquin, imo
Tyler Naquin became one of baseball’s hottest young bats back in 2016 when he debuted with a .296/.376/.514 line that flashed plenty of promise in both his on-base and power hitting abilities. His breakout didn’t come without warning signs — his strikeout rate was north of 30%, his BABIP was an unsustainable .411, and Cleveland pretty much refused to let him bat against left-handed pitchers. But his exit velocity readings showed he was hitting the ball very hard, a skill that is certainly less teachable than pitch selection, discipline, and things like that. In a Cleveland outfield that seems to constantly be trying to plug holes, Naquin seemed like he might actually have a bright future.
But in the years since that promising rookie debut, he’s failed to show similar offensive capabilities. He played just a handful of games in 2017 before being optioned to Triple-A, where he spent most of the year — in 19 big league games, he hit just .216/.250/.270 without a home run. He was able to hold a more steady role in the majors the following season, but unfortunately for him, it was still just in part-time capacity, and he again turned in a subpar batting line of .264/.295/.356 in 61 games. The 2019 season saw Naquin get more opportunities, and he generally played pretty well, hitting .288/.325/.467 as some of the pop in his bat returned and his outfield defense was given its best numbers of his career. But his offense dipped again last year, as he hit .218/.248/.383 in 40 games.
Now you’re up to speed on how Naquin went from a Rookie of the Year challenger to not having a guaranteed big league contract in a span of five years. So why is he on the Reds now? It’s probably for the same reason so many other corner outfielders have been added to Cincinnati’s organization over the past couple of years — the team seems to really like accumulating depth in those spots. The motivation for that is somewhat difficult to parse. While it would be inaccurate to say the Reds have a star-studded outfield, the starters out there are pretty well set. Jesse Winker might well be the team’s best hitter, so he’s going to hold down left field. Nick Senzel is a former top-10 prospect in baseball, and center field is where the Reds have decided he’s best suited to get playing time. And Nick Castellanos is making $16 million a year to start in right. The team even has Shogo Akiyama making a not-insignificant amount of guaranteed money to be the first outfielder off the bench.
That gives the team, in all likelihood, just one more outfield spot on the roster to work with, but boy did they want a lot of options for that spot. Aristides Aquino, Mark Payton and T.J. Friedl were poised to enter this season in competition for that fifth outfield spot, and the team has added Naquin, Nicky Delmonico, Scott Heineman and Dwight Smith to that competition through trades and minor league signings this winter. Naquin, for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem particularly likely to get that job. Barring any injuries, his placement on the roster would likely leave the team without a right-handed hitting outfield complement to Winker off the bench, and his glove isn’t good enough to justify keeping him on as a late-game defensive upgrade.
That being said, injuries do happen, and if either Winker or Akiyama doesn’t come out of spring training healthy, there’s a good chance Naquin would be the one that takes their spot. He’s a career 105 wRC+ hitter against right-handed pitching, and as the Baseball Savant percentiles from his scouting report above will tell you, he still hits the ball quite hard. Naquin still has swing-and-miss problems that don’t seem likely to go away at this point, but his bat can do a lot of damage when it does make contact. He could probably do an adequate job filling in if given the opportunity. It’ll just take something going wrong for that opportunity to arrive.