The Indians first-round selection (156th overall) of Texas A&M outfielder Tyler Naquin may have surprised most of the draft experts, but Brad Grant had him high on the Tribe’s draft board all along.
Grant, the Indians director of amateur scouting, didn’t think twice about passing on more widely-considered polished players while plucking the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Naquin from the middle of the 2012 First-Year Draft pile.
Even if the surprise selection blindsided Naquin, who compares himself to Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” he said. “I knew I was in the mix for the first round, but I figured it’d be anywhere from 18 on.”
But Naquin went three spots higher to the Tribe, the Indians’ brass enamored with the left-handed hitter’s sweet swing – even if it’s not big on power yet.
“When I walked out of there after the first weekend, Tyler was firmly on our radar screen,” Grant said. “He was obviously on it coming in from Team USA and what he did in the summer from week to week…When we saw him this spring, the more we went in there and saw him, it seemed like every time he was getting hit after hit after hit.”
Grant called the 21-year old “one of the better college hitters in the draft.”
“He exudes confidence in the batters box and has a tremendous track record of hitting in high school, in college and with Team USA,” Grant said of the 2011 Big 12 Player of the Year as a sophomore.
While Naquin owns the strong arm needed to play right field, he hasn’t hit for the kind of power he’d need to in order to play position in the pro ranks.
“He has above average potential with the bat for squaring up the baseball and a wiry string, athletic body,” Grant said. “He’s playing right field right now but with his tools – his speed, his instincts and his arm – we feel he has the ability to play center field in pro ball.”
If that’s the case, the Tribe’s future center fielder boasts a unique blend of talents.
“He’s got unbelievable hand-eye coordination,” Grant said. “He’s got really good bat speed with a knack to center the baseball. He drives the ball the opposite way pretty well and he’s got more power than some guy’s give him credit for.
Now, it is Naquin and the Indians’ jobs to prove the so-called experts and nay Sayers wrong.
“My strength is my plate approach and hitting,” said Naquin, who hit .380 for the Aggies this season with 18 doubles, six triples, three home runs and 49 RBI in 61 games. “My main weakness is I’d like to get bigger and stronger. People rave about power numbers, how I needed to increase those. But I have no doubt that it will just by getting bigger and stronger and more experienced at the next level.”