When the Cincinnati Reds inked Tyler Naquin to a Minor League contract this offseason, they could not foresee the impact he would have on their offense to start the 2021 season.
Naquin has absolutely gone off in 2021. Presently, Naquin is tied for the Major League lead in home runs and tied for second in RBI. He also leads the league in Hard Hit% and is in the 98th percentile in Avg. Exit Velocity. The man is obliterating baseballs. I’m surprised baseballs aren’t calling in sick for work when the Reds are playing.
The Reds high powered offense has been a surprise focal point of the MLB this season. Even more surprising has been the production of Tyler Naquin. However, this breakout could be the culmination of years of tinkering. It seems in 2021, the right mechanics and an altered approach have allowed Naquin to experience this renaissance and force his name onto the lineup card in Cincinnati.
Tyler Naquin has shown in the past the he can be a capable hitter. In his rookie season he posted a 133 wRC+ over 116 games in 2016. Unfortunately, underperformance and injuries hindered his development over the following two seasons.
In 2019, Naquin returned from a hamstring strain and over 89 games he posted a 102 wRC+, but then suffered a season ending ACL tear, once again derailing any momentum he seemed to be building. Subsequently, Naquin struggled in the Cleveland Indians anemic outfield and was granted free agency following the 2020 season.
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It would seem the Reds decided to scoop up Naquin for organizational depth as they have a crowded outfield between Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker. However, the Reds have much more invested in the likes of underachieving, but still valuable pieces in Nick Senzel and Shogo Akiyama. Naquin’s emergence may actually become a headache when Akiyama returns from the Injured List.
The question remains; is Tyler Naquin’s hot start sustainable?
Probably not. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the tools to become a solid regular in the everyday line up.
Firstly, Tyler Naquin has been tinkering with his mechanics for quite some time now. The swing he has now is not the swing he had last season or the season before that.
Naquin’s current set up is much more compact and relaxed, but he also has less moving parts. This has helped clean up Naquin’s bat path and has helped Naquin make his swing much more efficient. Considering Naquin’s size, the cleaned up bat path and the delivery of his backside have helped him get the ball in the air often, while allowing him to bring more mass to the bat ball collision.
Over the years, Naquin has gradually brought his stance to even, shortened a wide base, brought his hands tighter to his body and has less general movements overall in his set up. This is not only helping clean up his mechanics and swing path, but it’s also helping him see the ball better.
Although it is early and the sample is small, it seems that some adjustments to his approach have also helped Naquin in the early going. He is pulling the ball more than he has in the past and dialing in this approach has led him to increasing his BB% as well.
Over his career Naquin has also struggled to hit the ball to the opposite field with authority. Naquin has posted a career 93.2 Avg Exit Velo on opposite field hits with an 11 degree Avg before this season. On all batted balls over that same time period he has posted an 88.9 Avg. Exit Velo and 22 degree Avg. Launch Angle to the opposite field.
His two batted balls to the opposite field this season have been hit 96.1 and 99.8 mph respectively for a double and a home run. He’s showing that he is looking to pull, but is now developing the confidence to drive the ball to the opposite field as well.
It does bear repeating that it is early in the season and the sample size is small, but the mechanical changes that Tyler Naquin has made to his swing seem to be changes that are sustainable.
Following the departure of Asst. Hitting Coach Donnie Ecker and a disappointing offensive season in 2020, the Cincinnati Reds and hitting coach Alan Zinter seem to have made up that perceived lost ground in Ecker’s absence. 2020 was a season that could be defined by the Reds frustratingly low team BABIP, but now in 2021 it seems things are going their way. Perhaps, they have also found a hidden gem in Tyler Naquin to help supplement their potent offense.