CLEVELAND -- The pasture on the Naquin family property could have remained wild, filled with long grass and providing a picturesque backdrop for the hot Texas summer. With a pair of boys growing in height and competitiveness, Ken Naquin had other plans.
He decided to build a baseball diamond for his sons, Tyler and Zac.
"It was amazing," Tyler Naquin said of the ballfield he had in his backyard growing up. "If you can walk 100 yards down to home plate with a wheelbarrow full of your baseball equipment, that's pretty nice."
Tyler can leave the wheelbarrow back home in Spring, Texas. He won't need it in Cleveland.
On Monday night, the Indians used the 15th overall pick in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft to add Naquin, a versatile outfielder out of Texas A&M, to their farm system. Cleveland believes Naquin has the tools and potential to develop into a key component within the team's blueprint for the future.
Cleveland, which has a bonus pool of roughly $4.5 million for its first 10 picks in this Draft, has until 5 p.m. ET on July 13 to sign Naquin. The value assigned to the 15th overall pick is $2.25 million.
In a Draft billed as unpredictable, the Tribe pulled off a stunner. While most prognosticators had Cleveland targeting collegiate arms for the organization's lone pick on Day 1 of the Draft, the Indians added a left-handed-hitting outfielder. Consider it an example of Cleveland's insistance on selecting the best player available.
|1||HOU||SS Carlos Correa|
|2||MIN||OF Byron Buxton|
|3||SEA||C Mike Zunino|
|4||BAL||RHP Kevin Gausman|
|5||KC||RHP Kyle Zimmer|
|6||CHC||OF Albert Almora|
|7||SD||LHP Max Fried|
|8||PIT||RHP Mark Appel|
|9||MIA||LHP Andrew Heaney|
|10||COL||OF David Dahl|
|11||OAK||SS Addison Russell|
|12||NYM||SS Gavin Cecchini|
|13||CWS||OF Courtney Hawkins|
|14||CIN||RHP Nick Travieso|
|15||CLE||OF Tyler Naquin|
|16||WAS||RHP Lucas Giolito|
|17||TOR||OF D.J. Davis|
|18||LAD||SS Corey Seager|
|19||STL||RHP Michael Wacha|
|20||SF||RHP Chris Stratton|
|21||ATL||RHP Lucas Sims|
|22||TOR||RHP Marcus Stroman|
|23||STL||OF James Ramsey|
|24||BOS||SS Deven Marrero|
|25||TB||3B/1B Richie Shaffer|
|26||ARI||C Stryker Trahan|
|27||MIL||C Clint Coulter|
|28||MIL||OF Victor Roache|
|29||TEX||OF Lewis Brinson|
|30||NYY||RHP Ty Hensley|
|31||BOS||LHP Brian Johnson|
The 21-year-old Naquin offers a mix of speed and on-base ability as a hitter, and a cannon of an arm as a right fielder. Grant believes Naquin has the potential to add more power to his repertoire -- the young outfielder also insists that is his goal going forward -- and a move to center field is not out of the question.
The skills Naquin put on display at Texas A&M were first developed on the family property.
When Tyler and his older brother reached tee ball, Ken Naquin thought the time had come to turn the two-acre pasture into a baseball diamond. He smoothed out the field and had a truck deliver enough dirt to make the infield. Ken then constructed a backstop and a couple of benches where his sons and their friends could sit.
"We held practice there until I got to kid pitch," Tyler Naquin said.
It is a scene that might sound familiar to Indians fans.
Before Bob Feller was plucked from the cornfields of Van Meter, Iowa, and thrust into a Hall-of-Fame career with the Indians, his father built him a baseball field on their family farm. Feller credited all the work he did on the farm for his great arm strength.
Naquin has a similar tale to tell.
The young outfielder's rifle arm was intimidating to the point with the Aggies that opposing teams would rarely try to score from second on a single to right field. While Cleveland scouted Naquin, it was blown away by his arm strength.
"[He'd take] the ball off the right-field wall," Grant said, "picked it up with his bare hand and thrown a runner out at second base. He's got a well-above-average arm."
Naquin believes that comes from years of trying to throw farther than his older brother.
"We'd always throw the pro-sized football," Naquin said. "We were 7 years old, and we were trying to throw our arms out with it. But you can't get hurt really at seven. So I figured I'm going to build up arm strength from throwing everything all day long.
"Over the years, my brother and I would get out in the pasture and throw, and we'd just see how far we could throw it. I guess it all worked out. It was God's plan for me. He blessed me with that arm."
In the batter's box, Naquin was a standout for Klein Collins High School, hitting .442 as a sophomore and .441 in each of his final two seasons en route to being named All-State in Texas twice. The Orioles selected Naquin in the 33rd round (986th overall) in the 2009 Draft, but the outfielder opted to attend Texas A&M.
Indians area scout Kyle Van Hook kept a close eye on Naquin.
Over three seasons with the Aggies, Naquin hit .348 (238-for-687) with seven home runs, 49 doubles, 13 triples, 112 RBIs and 153 runs scored in 187 games. He was the Big 12 Player of the Year and a First Team All-American (College Baseball Insider) as a sophomore. As a junior this past season, he was a semifinalist for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award.
In 61 games this year, Naquin hit .380 with a .458 on-base percentage and a .541 slugging percentage. He mixed in three homers, 18 doubles, six triples, 21 stolen bases, 25 walks, 49 RBIs and 56 runs scored.
"He's got really good bat speed," Grant said. "He's got a knack for centering the baseball, and he drives the ball the opposite way very well. He's got more power than some guys give him credit for. He has the ability to drive the ball to the gap. He has the ability to turn doubles into triples, and he'll occasionally pull a ball out of the yard, too."
Naquin knows a lack of power has been a main criticism -- he plans on making added strength a priority as a pro -- but he noted that his approach this season was to get on base as often as possible.
"That's something I talked to my hitting coach about," Naquin said. "He said, 'Hey, man, you can go out this season and you can hit .300 with eight or nine home runs, or you could hit close to .400 and hit three home runs.' ... That was definitely my role, to get on base and let those other guys do their job."
At that, Naquin excelled.
"He's got unique and unbelievable eye-hand coordination," Grant said. "Each time we walked in it seemed like he was getting hit after hit after hit."
That skilled eye might also have been honed as a boy on his property.
Tyler Naquin would take a broomstick and spend hours hitting rocks on the banks of Spring Creek near their home. Ken Naquin would also throw the balls from sweetgum trees to Tyler for a different type of batting practice.
Soon, Naquin might have a chance to swing at baseballs in an Indians uniform.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime feeling," Naquin said. "For me and my family, it's an unexplainable feeling."