CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Tyler Naquin’s solid rookie numbers may have been enough to help erase some of the sting of Michael Brantley’s absence, but unfortunately, they weren’t enough to earn him the honor of being named the American League’s best rookie in the eyes of the voters.
But that certainly doesn’t make those contributions any less important.
Naquin, a finalist for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, came up short of taking home the hardware, finishing in third place in the BBWAA voting.
Right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers (11-7, 3.06) was officially named the league’s best rookie by the voters on Monday night, and catcher Gary Sanchez (.299, 20 HR) of the New York Yankees finished in second.
Cleveland’s young outfielder finished with two second-place votes and 14 third-place votes.
Naquin made the Indians’ 25-man roster out of Spring Training, something rookies typically don’t do without having any previous big league experience, but Brantley’s chronic shoulder problems — an issue that would force him to miss all but 11 games in 2016 — and the 80-game suspension of Abraham Almonte opened the door for the left-handed hitting outfielder.
The 25-year-old ran with the opportunity, slashing .324/.391/.614 as a part-time player through his first 74 games as a Major Leaguer. Naquin even demonstrated more power than expected, playing mostly against right-handed pitching and playing center field.
While the former first-rounder’s defense, at times, was less than stellar, his production at the plate helped the Indians offense thrive, scoring the second-most runs in the AL this season. His contributions went far beyond what anyone expected in his first season.
As teams began to get a more exposed look at the rookie, some of Naquin’s flaws at the plate became evident. Pitchers began to attack the rookie with more velocity up in the strike zone, and his numbers began to slump.
Naquin posted a .663 OPS with just one home run over his final 42 games of the regular season.
He went on to hit .174 in the playoffs with a pair of RBI.
The young outfielder provided a key two-run base hit in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, but some miscommunication in the outfield in the World Series contributed to Cleveland’s Game 6 loss to the Chicago Cubs, a series Cleveland eventually lost in seven games.
Overall, Naquin finished with extremely solid numbers in his debut campaign, hitting .296 (.886 OPS) with 14 homers, 18 doubles and five triples. His walk-off, inside-the-park home run to beat the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 19 became one of the most iconic plays of the 2016 season.
Among AL rookie hitters, Naquin finished fifth in batting average (.396), second in weight runs created plus (135), fifth in homers (14), third in run scored (52), third in on-base percentage (.372), third in slugging percentage (.514) and second in WAR (2.5).
Despite the second-half struggles, the Indians’ path to the postseason and beyond would have been far more difficult, maybe impossible, if not for the value Naquin was able to provide over the length of the entire campaign.
The left-handed hitter’s ability to make adjustments at the plate in his second season, particularly against pitches up in the zone, will likely help determine the type of contributions Naquin will be able to provide in 2017.
Meanwhile, two other member of the Indians were also named finalists for postseason awards.
Terry Francona was nominated for AL Manager of the Year and Corey Kluber is one of three finalists for the AL Cy Young. Both awards will be announced later this week.
Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager was voted NL Rookie of the Year.