Naylor Impressing On Big Stages

Josh Naylor (right) finished second to Luken Baker of Texas in the junior select Home Run Derby last week at Minnesota’s Target Field. The 17-year-old Naylor will compete at two more MLB ballparks before the summer is over

Josh Naylor (right) finished second to Luken Baker of Texas in the junior select Home Run Derby last week at Minnesota’s Target Field. The 17-year-old Naylor will compete at two more MLB ballparks before the summer is over

Playing in a big league stadium is nothing new to Mississauga, Ont., native Josh Naylor.

At the ripe old age of 17, he's already competed in three of them. And before the summer is over, he'll add two more to that list.

Naylor was officially selected Sunday to play in the 2014 Perfect Game All-American Classic, which takes place at San Diego's Petco Park on Aug. 10. Six days after that, he'll compete at the Under Armor All-America game at Chicago's iconic Wrigley Field.

With aspirations of making it to the big leagues constantly in the back of his mind, Naylor says being on an MLB diamond hasn't gotten old yet.

"Every time I step on a big league field I get a crazy rush," said the first baseman, who plays for the Junior National Team and the Ontario Blue Jays. "I always imagine myself playing on those same fields again one day."

Naylor is only the second Canadian to be named to the roster of a Perfect Game Classic — a premier high school all-star event which features 54 top players eligible for the following year's MLB draft. Former junior national teammate Gareth Morgan, who was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the second round this June, played in last year's game.

[JoshNaylor] The six-foot-one, 225-pound Naylor says being named Canada's only representative for the San Diego event is an "honour."

"I get to go there and show people what Canadians can do, kind of put Canada on the map a bit more," he said. "Canada's already on the map, but it shows that every year someone from Canada is able to do something special.

"I'm going to work my tail off down there, be positive and represent this country well. Gareth did Canada proud last year, and I want to do the same."

Naylor, who's projected to be the top Canadian selected in the 2015 draft, has also played at Toronto's Rogers Centre (at Tournament 12 last September), Miami's Marlins Park (at the 2012 Power Showcase), and most recently Minnesota's Target Field where he participated in the junior select Home Run Derby last week, finishing second behind Luken Baker of Texas.

In two combined rounds versus Baker in the final — which was held during commercial breaks at the MLB Home Run Derby — the left-handed hitting Naylor shot four homers over the 23-foot high wall in right-centre field.

And he made a friend in the process, chatting up fellow Canadian Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies, who was performing at the derby after being named to the National League team by captain Troy Tulowitzki a few days earlier.

"We talked about (Morneau's) Team Canada experience, his experience in Minnesota, how he's doing in Colorado now, how he won the derby in 2008 and how he thought he'd do this time around," Naylor said.

"He had a lot of great things to say about (director of national teams) Greg Hamilton, and it was an honour to sit down and talk to him and learn from him."

After the event, Morneau told Sportsnet's Shi Davidi that he was impressed with the young Canadian, saying "he's got a good swing."

Naylor, who admits he looks up to the New Westminster, B.C., native and former MVP, says he was delighted to hear that.

"It means that all my hard work is starting to pay off, that some really cool people are starting to notice and be impressed by what I'm doing," he said. "It makes me want to keep working hard, keep staying positive, and keep getting better."

CANADIANS IN THE MAJORS

Seattle Mariners left-handed pitcher James Paxton is close to coming off the disabled list after missing more than three months of the season with a strained lat muscle.

[paxton] The Ladner, B.C., native is scheduled to start at triple-A Tacoma on a rehab assignment Tuesday against the Las Vegas 51s and former Blue Jays prospect Noah Syndergaard. Paxton is expected to throw around 60 pitches, and will increase that limit to 75 in his next rehab start.

If all goes well, he could be back with the Mariners within the next two weeks. For Paxton (5-0 through six career starts with Seattle spanning the end of last season and two games this year), that's good news, and it's been a long time coming.

"It was tough to go get hurt like that when I was feeling so good out there for sure," Paxton told the Canadian Baseball Network in May. "But all I can do is get better as fast as possible and get back out there and help the Mariners win some games."

The 25-year-old was originally slated to miss six to eight weeks after going on the DL Apr. 9, but setbacks kept pushing his target date further and further into the future.

NOTES: The Colorado Rockies placed first baseman Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 14, with a strained neck. Morneau is hitting .312 with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs.

CANADIANS IN THE MINORS

It didn't take long for Scott Diamond to get a new job — four days, to be exact.

The left-handed [Scott Diamond]  pitcher, released by the Minnesota Twins on July 12, signed a minor league deal with Cincinnati on the 16th and reported to the Reds' triple-A affiliate in Louisville.

Diamond, of Guelph, Ont., started in his first game for the Bats Sunday, going six innings and giving up two runs (both earned) on four hits and zero walks, but he was saddled with a no-decision.

The southpaw started 15 games for the Twins' triple-A Rochester Red Wings before being released, posting a 4-7 record and a 6.52 ERA.

Diamond spent parts of three years with Minnesota's big league club, going 19-27 with a 4.43 ERA. His was 12-9 in 2012, his best year with the Twins.

NOTES: Blue Jays prospect Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) has 14 hits in his last nine games. He had his first three-hit night at the double-A level on Sunday as New Hampshire beat Portland 3-2 (he also had a stolen base).

-- Follow Melissa on Twitter @throwinsmoke

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Melissa Couto

My name is Melissa Couto. I'm a sports reporter-editor at The Canadian Press, where I've worked for the past two years. Mostly I work on the night desk, editing copy for print, online and broadcast, but I have been doing more and more writing recently. I also contribute to the Canadian Baseball Network, a website founded by renowned Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott.

 

I'm a graduate of Centennial College's sports journalism post-graduate program. Before that, I went to Western where I completed a BA and MA in American history (it's helped me impress people when we're watching Jeopardy). In all seriousness, my time at Western was valuable.  I walked away with a real passion for writing. When I took the post-grad program at Centennial, I learned to merge that love of writing with the love of sport that I've always had (particularly for baseball), and as they say, the rest is history.