Naquin, Frazier seek to overcome weight of hype
Young outfield prospects spent offseason looking for ways to improve
CLEVELAND -- Before the start of Tribe Fest last month, the Indians clubhouse buzzed with the chatter of some of the team's more established players, including Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes. David Murphy, the team's biggest free-agent acquisition of the winter, introduced himself to some of his new teammates
Off to the side, away from the veterans, outfielders Clint Frazier and Tyler Naquin sat next to each other. The Indians' last two first round Draft picks were the only players without Major League experience in the clubhouse. Their crisp white jerseys had no numbers on the back, only their last names, still unfamiliar to many Indians fans. The next day, Naquin would find himself signing autographs alongside Kenny Lofton and watching as several fans collected Lofton's signature only to pass him by.
"My escort was kind of laughing, looking at me, and I said, 'Hey, that's what happens when you sit next to a guy like this,'" Naquin said.
Despite their relative anonymity, Naquin and Frazier still feel the pressure of having to live up to their large signing bonuses and even bigger expectations.
"Nobody's really going to come up to your face and say, 'You've got to make it,' or 'You've got to do this,' but you know it," said Naquin, whom the Indians picked 15th overall in 2012. "Being the first pick, it doesn't go unseen or unheard."
A year after selecting Naquin, the Indians took Frazier fifth overall and gave the Georgia high-school star a $3.5 million signing bonus, the largest in franchise history. His professional career got off to a charmed start when he hit a home run in his first at-bat in the Arizona Rookie League.
Frazier thought he might hit 30 home runs in the league after that at-bat, he said. He ended the season 25 home runs shy of that mark. And though he ended the season with solid stats -- he hit .297 with a .506 slugging percentage in 44 games -- he soon learned the Minor Leagues are much more difficult than what he had been used to.
"In high school, I could go out there and look like I'm having a bad day, but still look like I'm better than the other players, just because of the natural ability and some of the God-given talent that I have," Frazier said. "But going out on the Minor League field, not doing as good just looks awful. Everyone else seems to be able to do it as good or better."
The day before he came to Cleveland for Tribe Fest, Frazier watched as MLB Network unveiled MLB.com's Top 100 prospects. Frazier ranked No. 48, an impressive status for a 19-year old. But after being considered the top high-school player in the country less than a year ago, he said it was humbling.
"I was saying to my parents, I went from being the No. 1 ranked high-school player in the country to being the 48th ranked player in the Minor Leagues," Frazier said. "It's a different feeling going from one to barely making the Top 50. It makes me want to work harder to get to where Byron Buxton is -- the No. 1 spot."
Frazier did go to work in the offseason, hitting the weight room hard. He said he has gained about 25 pounds since weighing in at 184 pounds at his post-Draft physical in June.
After injuries prevented him from working out the last two years of high school, Frazier said he wanted to get stronger this winter.
"I think it's going to help me put more behind the ball," he said. "Make me look a little more physical at the plate and not like a 5-10 redhead."
Frazier said he doesn't think the added muscle will hurt his speed, which helps him cover ground well in center field. The Indians didn't ask Frazier to gain weight, but Ross Atkins, vice president of player development, said the club is pleased with Frazier's preparation for his first full professional season.
"I think we're at the point right now where we're mutually developing a vision for him," Atkins said. "The work ethic that he has, we can adjust if need be, but he's in a good position."
Naquin also spent the winter improving. He too got stronger, adding about 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame. He said he now weighs 186 pounds.
Perhaps more importantly, Naquin used his time in the Arizona Fall League to finish making changes to his stance that he began during the summer. Working with Indians coaches, Naquin said he was able to find a happy medium between the narrow stance he used in college and the wide one he used last season.
"These guys have been able to help me out to get more in my legs, but staying taller and using my hands, not chasing, controlling the strike zone," Naquin said. "My hand-eye coordination is pretty solid, so they just want to maximize that to my potential."
Using his new stance, Naquin led the AFL with 39 hits and posted an .817 OPS in 27 games. He is confident he has found something that works and will be able to carry his positive momentum into this year.
Atkins said the change in Naquin's stance should allow him to hit for more power, but the real benefit is that it makes him a more consistent hitter. While Atkins said he thinks the change will help Naquin, what he likes most is that it was Naquin who came to the Indians with the idea.
"This is a guy who's had a ton of success doing something in a manner that helped him have that success and he was willing to change that," Atkins said. "We didn't feel like he needed to, but felt like he would benefit from it. There's a subtle difference there."
Naquin's first chance to see if he will be able to carry over his strong AFL performance into this season will come in big league Spring Training. He said he can't put into words how excited he is for the invitation. He is hoping to use the time to improve, but also to enjoy the moment in the pressure-packed journey from first-round pick to the Major Leagues.
"Just grind it out, just have fun," Naquin said. "My big thing is having fun. You can drive yourself crazy if you don't."