The talk of the town around baseball when it comes to the Colorado Rockies’ offseason aspirations has been centered around the fact that the Rockies are looking for a center fielder. First, eyes were set on Brandon Nimmo, before his price ascended and he rejoined the New York Mets. Next, the Rockies were extremely interested in acquiring Cody Bellinger, before he signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. Then, we contemplated if they would turn to Kevin Kiermaier to patrol center before he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The options have quickly fallen off the dream wish list of free agents that the Rockies could add to be their main center fielder. While it has been mentioned that a power-hitting lefty could be added elsewhere, or they could perhaps look at the trade market for a center fielder, today I wanted to focus on another free-agent outfielder that could join the mix for a relatively cheap cost and provide an extra left-handed bat. That player is none other than Tyler Naquin.
Despite not being exactly the type of player the Rockies seem to be hoping for, he is built exactly like the type of player that the Rockies would pursue. Originally drafted as a first-round pick by Cleveland in 2012, Naquin has spent seven years in the big leagues with the previously named Cleveland Indians as well as the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets.
A career .264/.318/.448 hitter, Naquin has had a bit of an uneven career, numbers-wise. At times he has displayed some high-quality production like during his rookie year in 2016 when he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting after smacking 14 home runs and batting .296/.372/.514 in 116 games.
Most recently, Naquin spent the 2022 season split between the Reds and the Mets. In 105 games last season, Naquin batted .229/.282/.423 with 11 home runs and 46 RBI. Despite struggling a bit after a trade to the Mets, Naquin settled into a nice reserve role for the team in Queens becoming a nice left-handed compliment on paper for Mark Cahna and Starling Marte.
So, what does he bring to the table offensively for the Rockies? One of the biggest things is some relative consistency with his contact. 2021 is best the best indicator of his ceiling potential as a regular everyday starter. He set career highs in categories such as games played (127), hits (111), home runs (19), RBI (70), and walks (35).
His batted ball profile fits in relative to most of the league. He has a career ground ball rate of 45.5%, a line drive rate of 21.7%, and a fly ball rate of 32.8%. In 2022, Naquin did post better numbers in all three categories in contrast to his career numbers, lowering his ground balls with a decent uptick in flyballs. Naquin tends to fair better in his overall production when he can find the sweet point in his batting outcomes. As displayed by double-digit home run numbers, the power is there if he can elevate the ball more often, something that Great American Ballpark helped benefit.
While not necessarily a leadoff batter, Naquin has spent the majority of his career hitting in the lower portion of the lineup. Still, a bit more consistent bat that can make contact and throw out a home run or two along the way isn’t too bad. He fits more into a platoon however since he has struggled against left-handed pitching.
Like any other batter on a budget, Naquin comes with his kryptonite. Strikeouts could arise as a problem, especially with the change to dealing with the Coors Field effect. However, there were signs of improvement over the past two seasons that could find a way to click for the 2023 season.
Defensively, it gets more obscure. Naquin has primarily been tabbed as a right fielder, but he’s only played 17 fewer games in center field. So, he has plenty of experience out there, but likely isn’t the type of glove you’d want. FanGraphs indicates he has a -17 DRS in the center compared to just -1 in right field, though that number is skewed after a rough rookie campaign in 2016. After posting a positive DRS in 2017 and 2018, Naquin finished 2021 with a DRS of -6, the last time he spent significant time in center field.
His range isn’t anything to write home about either, so in reality, the team is better off just leaving things up to Yonathan Daza and Randal Grichuk, or Brenton Doyle.
Naquin is not the answer to an everyday center fielder for the Rockies. As I mentioned before, he would be better suited as a platoon player that fills in where he’s needed. After earning a little over $4 million in 2022, it’s not without reason that you can get him for a lower-risk deal.
The Rockies seem determined to bet the future on prospects like Zac Veen, Benny Montgomery, and Doyle, so in the meantime, they may be able to get away with moves like signing players like Naquin and approaching center field as a committee position. Ride the hot hand, play the matchups, and just see what happens. They missed their chance for the top prizes and the trade market doesn’t provide much improvement at a reasonable price.
Whatever path they choose, the fact remains, the Rockies need to settle on a priority and focus on improving that aspect of the team, and right now in this writer’s opinion, they are better suited to focusing on pitching instead of adding outfielders.
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The Rockies made a much-needed addition to the bullpen yesterday adding Denver native Pierce Johnson on a one-year $5 million deal for the 2023 season. Johnson spent the last three seasons with the San Diego Padres to great success but dealt with injury in 2022.
Drew Creasman echos the thought that the Rockies should prioritize improving their pitching after missing out their preferred center field targets.
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