Is baseball changing before our eyes?
That happens all the time, and the game is just coming out of one of its highest offensive periods ever. But, more and more, it seems like we're swinging back into a pitching-dominated age. It won't be as bad as the '60's, but offense may be on the decline for the immediate future.
Why is that relevant here? Because I think it gives Tyler Naquin more value than he might have had 10 years ago. Naquin is a flat-out hitter. Every single scouting report you read on him raves about hit ability to hit, and it started last season during the College Classic at Minute Maid Park. Naquin is basically Raph Rhymes with a much, much better swing. It's quiet without much pre-swing movement and he simply explodes into the ball with quick wrists.
So why isn't Naquin touted as the best college hitter in this draft, even if he's got "the best hit tool around?" It's all about power and defensive position. See, Naquin doesn't really hit for much power at all, even though he flashes it in batting practice and has a little more uppercut to his swing than you'd anticipate for a guy with his reputation.
He's also got a cannon for an arm in right field, grading out as the best outfield arm of all the college players. Add in a good baserunning skill set (he's stolen 21 of 26 this season) and Naquin has a solid set of skills right now that can help a team. He just may not be able to play center, as scouts don't love his route to fly balls and he just hasn't had much chance to play out there.
Even with his plus skills in right, without more power potential, Naquin won't be looked on too favorably. That's why he's being mocked in the second half of the first round.
But, if we ask the question above, does Naquin look more favorable in that new power-starved pitching era? I'm not going to hang a Tony Gwynn comparison on him, but if you look at the Hall of Famer's career, he never hit for much power and stole 40 bases or more just twice in his career. He also played right field even though he didn't have even average power.
If Naquin can hit .300 consistently with a ton of doubles and 20-30 steals a year, plus you get plus defense in right, can't a team live with less power in right? Certainly, the 2012 Astros could.
Naquin won't last until the supplemental round, but he'd be a fantastic pick for the Astros there, as it seems they may be a team that values what he can do and doesn't worry about what he can't.
A pure hitter who can work as a defensive replacement is a great backup outfielder and bat off the bench. That's his floor, I think, as he has a great shot at making the majors right now.
That depends on his position. If he sticks in center field and can consistently hit over .300, he's an All-Star. If he's in right...well, he may not be an All-Star unless he hits .350. Still think he can be a valuable player there for a long time.
Projected Draft Round
Right now, he's going in the late first round, but I could imagine a team like Oakland falling in love with him and popping him early.
Will he sign?
Naquin is a junior, but I don't see him improving his stock much to warrant a return to school.
Bibliography after the jump
Texas A&M outfielder Tyler Naquin has a great arm -- it's him or Fullerton freshman Michael Lorenzen with the best arm in the event -- but he really struggled with offspeed stuff over the two games. He has good rotation in his swing, but it leads to loop length, which may be forcing him to commit before he can recognize the pitch.
Potential tweener. Untested in CF but profile is helped if he can handle the position in pro ball. Solid-average speed, instincts and plus arm give him a good foundation to transition to CF. Has potential to hit and should get on base at a quality level thanks to advanced approach and pitch recognition skills. Power doesn't profile for an outfield corner but would stand up in CF. Could hit .280 with 30 doubles and 12-14 home runs during his best seasons.
Naquin had the best hit tool I have seen all year (quite a bit ahead of Barnes) with good speed to go with it. In regards to power, he has very little of it right now and I really don't see him grading out higher than a 35 power wise in the future. The body I just don't think has much pop in it no matter how much more he fills out. His swing is built to hit for average, which I think he will do right away in the pro ranks as well. Very quick hands and doesn't swing at pitches out of the zone. Seemed to always be in a good hitting count in the three games I saw him in and sprayed line drives to every field. Very impressed with the hit tool and think it will keep developing. Not as confident in the power potential though however to answer your question.
Tyler Naquin, OF: Hitting .392/.412/.608 so far. Sophomore outfielder, NOT draft eligible this year but someone to watch for 2012. Good athlete, fast and strong, quick bat from the left side, overaggressive but young enough to improve.
Multiple scouts have said Naquin's arm rates as at least a 70 on the 20-80 scale, and it's a real weapon in right field. The secret is out now, and teams don't run on him nearly as often as they did a year ago, but he still has three outfield assists, including a big one in the first inning Sunday, when he gunned down a man at the plate to help prevent a big inning.
Those are the issues with Naquin, who has as good a pure bat and outfield arm as any college player this year. From what scouts tell me, center field might be a stretch and he's never going to have a ton of power. Good player but could wind up as a tweener.