Josh Naylor is demanding the San Diego Padres’ attention. The young first baseman (unheralded in many circles) has been tearing it up at Double-A San Antonio, showcasing ever-improving plate discipline and pairing it with above-average power, opening many eyes in the process.
Taken 12th overall in the 2015 Amateur Draft by the Miami Marlins, Naylor was one of the most sought after prep hitters in the draft. The 17-year-old from St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) was seen as a prototypical first baseman as he had enough raw power to make up for a supposed “lack of athleticism” (his 22 career stolen bases laugh at that thought), which was enough for the Marlins to take a chance on him. After a series of strange events where the trade was agreed upon then put on hold then back on again, he was finally sent to the Padres the very next summer in the “Cashner Deal” and was immediately promoted to High-A Lake Elsinore.
In his full-season debut in 2016 Naylor showed flashes of that power potential, posting 12 home runs accompanied by 29 doubles. His cumulative slash of .264/.302/.407 was solid, especially for a 19-year-old, and he was able to earn a spot in the 2016 Futures Game. Unfortunately, he struggled a bit in the second half of the season after his debut with the Storm as he posted an OPS of just .616 over 33 games in Elsinore.
In 2017, however, Naylor really turned it on. Coming into the year as the Padres’ 15th-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, Naylor was assigned to High-A Lake Elsinore. Although he didn’t hit for much more power, Naylor was able to increase his walk rate from 4.8 percent to 8.6 percent en route to a .297/.361/.452 slash line for the Storm. As a 20-year-old in High-A ball, Naylor was showing improved discipline without losing any of the power previously tapped into in 2016. The accolades began to pile up in 2017 as he earned Player of the Month honors in the Cal League for April as well as a mid-season Cal League All-Star nod and second straight Futures Game invitation. By the time 2017 ended, Naylor had earned a call-up to Double-A, appearing in 42 games before the minor league’s season ended in September.
This would not signify the end of Naylor’s season. The Padres decided he should be given the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with some of the most highly-touted prospects in all of baseball and so they sent him to Arizona for the Arizona Fall League. Suiting up for the Peoria Javelinas, Naylor appeared in 19 games and slashed .304/.337/.494 along with six doubles and three home runs. This performance was good enough to earn him a spot in the league’s version of an all-star game, the Rising Stars Game, as well as the All-Prospect Team.
Now, accolades are very nice, but they shouldn’t be relied on when evaluating player performance. Adjustments and a player’s willingness to make them are much more indicative of player success. Therefore, Josh Naylor’s successes in 2018 seem like the real deal. Having been dubbed the team’s 16th-best prospect, Naylor this season began the year in Double-A San Antonio. Through 25 games (an admittedly small sample size) Naylor has improved both his walk rate (up to 12.9%) and his strikeout rate (down to 10.3%) while finally tapping into his highly-lauded raw power. With eight home runs after the season’s first month, Naylor is expected to easily surpass his season-high of 12 home runs while also walking more than he strikes out. Now, his BABIP is a bit high at .370 as of May 2nd, but even with significant regression his slash line of .380/.457/.690 is still very impressive. He also sports a 201 wRC+ and an ISO of .310 and, oh yeah, he’s doing this all a month before he turns 21.
Naylor is forcing his way into the Padres’ future plans, and he has even played seven games in left field in an effort to become more versatile. With Eric Hosmer entrenched at first base on the big league club, Naylor does not have an obvious spot when he is indeed ready for a promotion so it is smart for the team to try him out in the outfield. Naylor’s stock is shooting through the roof at the moment and it is easy to see him putting it together over the full course of the season. He has improved his plate discipline while also hitting for more power than he ever has in his professional career, signifying a more focused approach at the plate. He has improved offensively every year of his pro career and there is nowhere to go but up for this young man.
Big things are coming for Josh Naylor and it’s about time he gets the recognition that he deserves.