The Indians suffered a potentially significant blow Friday, as outfielder Tyler Naquin was removed on a cart after making a catch at the outfield wall (video via Dawn Klemish of MLB.com). It has been announced as a right-knee sprain, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets, but that’s only a preliminary assessment.
Manager Terry Francona told Klemish and others after the game, which the Indians lost 4-0, that it’s too soon to “play doctor.” However, Francona added that “it didn’t look good, and we’re very concerned.”
Naquin, the 15th overall pick in 2012, burst on the scene as a rookie in 2016, but injuries and underperformance have largely weighed him down since then. He has reestablished himself as a capable big league hitter this season, though, with a .288/.325/.467 line and 10 home runs in 294 plate appearances. The 28-year-old has performed even better in the outfield, combining for 8 Defensive Runs Saved and an 8.3 Ultimate Zone Rating among all three positions.
Naquin’s output this year has been worth 1.4 fWAR, which leads an Indians outfield that hasn’t received high-end numbers from anyone. Trade deadline acquisitions Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes (primarily a DH) haven’t been all that impactful to this point. Rookie Oscar Mercado has slowed down significantly since an encouraging start. Greg Allen hasn’t hit, nor has Jake Bauers (who has been in the minors all month). Worsening matters, Jordan Luplow – the most productive hitter among Indians outfielders this year – has been on the IL since Aug. 5 with a strained hamstring.
Adding up all of the above highlights Naquin’s importance to Cleveland, whose position player group just took an enormous hit last weekend when third baseman Jose Ramirez suffered a fractured hamate bone in his right hand. The club’s still in possession of the AL’s No. 1 wild-card spot by half a game, but if Naquin heads to the IL, its lineup will be down three regular contributors.