The Miami Marlins surprised a lot of people and ruined just about everyone’s mock drafts when they selected Canadian high schooler Josh Naylor with the twelfth overall pick. They saw something they liked in Naylor, who has prodigious power and shows plus defensive tools. He was an absolute force on the Canadian Junior National Team for several years. “You hate to put a player on a guy, but there is some Prince Fielder in this guy. There really is. He’s got that kind of bat speed. He’s got that kind of raw power, which is really unique” Stan Meek, the Marlins Scouting Director said. The Fish are not shy about taking guys who may need a few years of development, drafting high school fireballer Tyler Kolek with their first round choice in 2014 and Naylor the year after. While Kolek and Naylor both have great long-term upside, Kolek will start the 2016 season as a 20-year-old and Naylor as an 18-year-old. It will be exciting to watch them both travel through the Marlins system as they approach their dreams of making it to the big leagues one day soon.
Josh was kind enough to take some time to answer a few of my questions, so I’d like to thank him for that and wish him the best of luck this season, which will be the first full professional season of his career. In a brief 25-game stint with the Gulf Coast League Marlins, Naylor hit .327 with 1 home run and 16 RBIs in 105 plate appearances. He walked 4 times and only struck out 11 times, showing good plate discipline for a guy with his power.
Here are the questions I asked along with Josh’s responses:
You were projected to be drafted somewhere near the end of the first round or the beginning of the second round. Was it a surprise when the Marlins came calling with the 12th overall pick or did you know about their interest beforehand?
Marlins Park is where I had one of my first big events during the Power Showcase HR Derby when I was 15 and then returning when I was 16. Just before the draft I was with Team Canada in the Dominican playing against teams in the Dominican Summer League and on our way home we had a layover in Miami. The timing could not have been better because I was invited by the Marlins to do a workout at Marlins Park during that layover. The whole time I was thinking to myself that this feels like home, because I was so comfortable being there in a place that I always performed well in. So when the Marlins expressed interest in me I felt like it was meant to be.
Do you think playing your high school ball in Canada kept you a bit under the radar, despite the showcase circuits? Do you think there would have been more buzz around you on draft day if you had played in a “baseball state” like California or Illinois?
I feel that Canada’s Junior National Team and my elite baseball club, Ontario Blue Jays, gives Canadian high school players the best exposure of any program in North America. Year after year, in both programs, I had the opportunity to play top colleges and D1 schools, minor league and MLB teams.
You played 25 games with the Gulf Coast Marlins last season, and while it certainly wasn’t the big leagues, it was professional baseball. What was it like to finally be compensated for something you’ve worked so hard for?
Being able to play baseball for the Miami Marlins is a tremendous honor in itself. Finally being able to play at baseball at the professional level is something that I have worked hard to achieve and I immediately received great support and coaching from the Marlins staff and coaches. My journey to the major leagues is just beginning and I look forward to the daily grind to get there.
Most scouting reports highlight your strong arm, but ultimately say you’ll end up as a first baseman. Regardless of what scouts say, where do you project yourself playing when you make it to Major League Baseball? Do you have a position you prefer?
I love playing first base and have a lot of experience at that position because it’s a position I’ve played since the beginning, but I also continue to work on developing all aspects of my game to be an all-around player. If given the opportunity I do think my arm strength would be an asset in the outfield. At the end of the day I want to be able to contribute to my team in any way, at any position I’m needed in, and be an impact player at the same time.
You won’t turn 19 until the middle of next season, but you’re already considered the second best prospect in the Marlins system. Does that type of ranking motivate you, make you feel more pressure, or not really have an effect at all?
I try not to focus too much on rankings because it can go either way at any time. I just try to be better than I was yesterday and work harder than anyone else. Rankings can sometimes mess with your mind and make you too complacent or doubtful of your abilities. Making it to the majors is my priority so I always set goals for myself and focus on developing everyday, learning and having fun.
You were among the highest ranked players in terms of power in your draft class, but some scouts were concerned about your ability to hit for average. In a small sample of 25 games last season though, you were able to hit .327, but only 1 home run. Was this due to working on just hitting for contact, making adjustments to the pro game, or just a weird coincidence?
It could be a combination of all those factors. I struggled with health issues (mono, bronchitis and strep) shortly after reporting to the Marlins in July and it kind of took a toll on me, but I played through it the best I could. Playing for the Canadian Junior National Team as well as the Ontario Blue Jays prior to being drafted kind of prepared me for what to expect in professional baseball so it was an environment that was very familiar. Hitting a home run felt really good when it happened but also being able to get on base, move players around and be an overall contributor to my team is what it’s all about and it’s just as rewarding as a HR.
Who were your favorite players growing up? Did you model yourself after anyone when playing baseball as a kid?
My favourite player growing up is David Ortiz. I still idolize his game to this day. He brings so much energy to everyone once he walks up to the plate and I’ve always tried to make my game like his since I started baseball.
I heard you referred to as “Canada’s best first baseman since Joey Votto” by a scout. Your game is different than his, of course, but how does a comparison like that make you feel as a young player just getting his career under way?
Being compared to Joey Votto is an absolute honor. I’ve had the privilege of meeting him and getting some good advice and motivating words. He is the kind of player that makes young players like myself want to work hard, be challenged and just focus on achieving dreams.
While you were still in high school, you out-homered guys like Yasiel Puig, Josh Donaldson, Justin Morneau, and Brian Dozier in a home run derby at Target Field. What was it like to be able to compare your game to All-Stars at such a young age?
These are all guys I look up to and dream of playing with or against someday. That experience at Target Field is something I will never forget because the players welcomed me and made me feel like a big leaguer. I felt like I was in my comfort zone with an opportunity to watch and learn from some of the best hitters in baseball. I hope to be there again competing someday.
A huge “thank you” to Josh for taking time to respond to my questions. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshNaylor44 and keep an eye on him as he rises through the Marlins system.