Naquin leads Tribe's Arizona Fall League development
Outfield prospect has success with adjustment to hitting mechanics
CLEVELAND -- Development is the primary goal for the prospects who take the field in the Arizona Fall League each year. Winning is just a bonus.
A handful of the Indians' top prospects were fortunate enough to experience the latter with Surprise, which won the AFL championship with a victory over Mesa on Saturday. More important to Cleveland was the fact that this select class of players -- headed by outfield prospect Tyler Naquin, the club's fifth-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com -- concentrated on development in specific areas.
"We want our guys to be focused on really pushing the envelope to find out how good they can be," said Ross Atkins, the Indians' vice president of player development. "The Arizona Fall League is very much a development league. It just has the elite talent in it. And it isn't just the industry's elite talent, this is our elite talent."
The goals are tailored to the individual. The tasks can range from working on a specific pitch, trying to pick up on pitcher tendencies, pushing things defensively to learn limits or a variety of other concepts.
For Naquin -- Cleveland's first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft -- there were three main goals. The Indians wanted the outfielder to continue his work on a change to his hitting mechanics, focus on stealing bases and gain even more experience in center field.
From the moment the Indians drafted Naquin, the outfielder has been on board with trying to identify ways to improve his game.
"He's extremely tough and extremely open-minded," Atkins said. "I would say, relative to thinking about improving, thinking about the big picture, having a vision for himself, he's elite in that realm."
In 27 games for Surprise this fall, the 22-year-old Naquin hit .339 (39-for-115) with a .400 on-base percentage and a .417 slugging percentage. The lefty-swinging outfielder mixed in one home run, four doubles, one triple, four stolen bases, 11 walks, 18 RBIs and 22 runs in AFL play.
It was a continuation of a solid 2013 season for Naquin, who posted a .269/.334/.405 slash line in 126 games between stints with Class A Advanced Carolina and Double-A Akron. Along the way, he produced 10 homers, 30 doubles, six triples, 15 stolen bases, 46 walks, 48 RBIs and 78 runs in his first full Minor League season. Naquin also had 11 assists from the outfield this year.
About midway through the season, Naquin took on some changes to his swing, which he continued to implement during his stay in the AFL.
"It took a vision and it took a lot of courage and it took conviction," Atkins said. "He had all those things, and it wasn't something that we went to him and said, 'You have to do this.' On the contrary, it was him being a student."
Naquin, who was more upright in his stance when the 2013 season began, lowered his hands and focused on using his lower half more in both his setup and swing. The outfielder's overall numbers dipped in the season's second half, but such changes take time and Cleveland has been encouraged by the results, especially in the AFL. Naquin has shown improvement with consistent hard contact and strike-zone discipline.
"The adjustment he's made allows him to see the ball longer," Atkins said. "It really was a significant adjustment for him, and he's obviously having success with it."
Here is a glance at the other Indians prospects who took part in the Arizona Fall League:
RHP Shawn Armstrong
The 23-year-old Armstrong, who was taken in the 18th round of the 2011 Draft, appeared in 10 games for Surprise in the AFL. The right-hander posted a 1.59 ERA with 16 strikeouts and 10 walks in 11 1/3 innings. Armstrong spent most of 2013 at Akron and fashioned a 4.14 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 21 walks in 37 innings overall in the Minors.
RHP Trey Haley
Haley, 23, logged just 1 2/3 shutout innings for Surprise in the AFL before being shut down with right shoulder soreness. Haley did not need surgery and is expected to be fine for Spring Training. In 39 games this past season, the righty had a 4.70 ERA in 44 innings at Akron. He had 46 strikeouts and 39 walks.
RHP Jeff Johnson
Johnson, 23, appeared in only four games for Surprise in the AFL, logging a 9.00 ERA with five strikeouts and four walks in four innings. This past season, the right-hander had a 2.25 ERA in 46 games between tours with Carolina and Akron. Johnson (a 10th-round Draft pick in 2011) had 50 strikeouts and 15 walks in 48 Minor League innings in '13.
C Jake Lowery
Lowery, 23, appeared in eight games for Peoria in the AFL, posting a .240/.310/.320 slash line with five RBIs. Lowery, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft, split the 2013 Minor League season between Carolina and Akron, hitting .264 with seven homers, 23 doubles and 33 RBIs in 82 games.
RHP Will Roberts
In seven games for Surprise this fall, the 23-year-old Roberts had a 6.67 ERA in 28 1/3 innings, in which he struck out 21 and walked eight. Roberts -- a fifth-round selection in the 2011 Draft -- logged 27 games between Carolina and Akron this past season, going 8-12 with a 4.77 ERA in 154 2/3 innings. Roberts struck out 107 and walked 36 in that span.
RHP Tyler Sturdevant
The 27-year-old Sturdevant (taken in the 27th round of the '09 Draft) missed all of the 2013 Minor League season while recovering from a right arm injury, but appeared in four games for Surprise in the AFL. In four innings, the right-hander struck out three and allowed no runs or walks. Sturdevant was an AFL injury replacement for Haley.
2B Joe Wendle
The 23-year-old Wendle suited up for Surprise and put together a .311/.371/.492 slash line in 16 games in the AFL. The second baseman (selected in the sixth round of the '12 Draft) had one homer, four doubles, two triples, six walks, eight runs and 12 RBIs. In 107 games between Carolina and Akron in 2013, Wendle hit .295/.372/.513 with 16 homers, 53 extra-base hits and 64 RBIs.
C Tony Wolters
Wolters continued his transition from middle infielder to catcher during a 14-game stint with Surprise in the AFL. The 21-year-old prospect (taken in the third round of the 2010 Draft) hit .178 with a .345 on-base percentage. In 80 games with Carolina in 2013, Wolters hit .277/.369/.353 with three homers, 13 doubles and 33 RBIs.