Don’t tell this year’s Major League Baseball draft class it’s next to impossible to get selected out of Canada; that turning to hockey is the only shot at playing sports at a professional level.
This thought vanished when Josh Naylor of Mississauga was chosen by the Miami Marlins with their 12th overall pick. Naylor, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound first baseman, made history by becoming the highest selected Canadian position player the draft has ever seen.
The Texas Tech committee was hitting .447 with four home runs in 12 games for the Ontario Blue Jays, an elite team that he has played on since the age of 12. Now, usually the Blue Jays start players off with their 16-and-under group or with their younger development camp, but Naylor was an exception.
His first at-bat was an inter-squad game against an 18-year-old pitcher, who he singled off of, then proceeded to steal second, and then third. At 14-years-old Josh was already travelling the world and facing professional pitching with the Canadian Junior team. In an interview with Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, Naylor remembers Shohei Otani of Japan, the most difficult pitcher he has ever faced. “He was 95-98 mph with a splitter, a two-seamer, a change and a curve. I had four strikeouts that day.” Let’s keep in mind that Naylor was still only 14 at the time.
Scouts have compared his power and aggressive swing to Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers and Matt Stairs, who will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. The big first baseman scored a 10/10 at Perfect Game, the biggest show case in North America, and is a first-team All-American and All-Region player. Baseball America ranked him 61st on the top 500 prospects list and Prospect Watch had him 59th.
Ontario Nationals pitcher Michael Mueller, who faces Naylor on a regular basis, describes him as a “nightmare” to pitch against. “He’s hard to throw to, he can hit the ball regardless of location. He always stands at the front of the box and crowds the plate, so there’s never much room for mistakes.”
The kid from Mississauga, a city located on the outskirts of Toronto, may also be settling in for a nice pay day. Some scouts think $2.5 million dollars for a signing bonus with Miami is a reasonable expectation.
Naylor isn’t the only Canadian allowing kids from a hockey-dominated country to dream big when it comes to baseball. Here is a list of the 10 Canadians drafted.
Mike Soroka (P) 28th overall to the Atlanta Braves
Jeff Degano (P) 57th overall to the New York Yankees
Miles Gordon (OF) 115th overall to the Cincinnati Reds
Demi Orimoloye (OF) 121st overall to the Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Kellogg (P) 143rd overall to the Chicago Cubs
Connor Panas (3B) 272nd overall to the Toronto Blue Jays
Devon Stewart (P) 274th overall to the Cleveland Indians
Owen Spiwak (C) 302nd overall to the Toronto Blue Jays
Cole Baumi (OF) 310th overall to the Detroit Tigers
Honourable mention goes to Blue Jays announcer Joe Siddall and his son Brett for being selected by the Oakland A’s out of Canisius College.
A year ago, the top Canadian was outfielder Gareth Morgan at 74th overall by Seattle.
As talent continues to emerge from the North, Baseball Canada has shown that they can, and will, make an impact in Major League Baseball.