By: Bob Elliott
He was a guy not everyone wanted at his very first practice.
Not because of lack of talent, but because of his age.
And now every teams wants Josh Naylor.
Josh Naylor, 12 and his pop Chris Naylor’s Mississauga North Tigers were working out at a Mississauga facility. Coach Sean Travers had been giving hitting lessons to Josh’s brother Noah Naylor and his Mississauga North Tigers nine-year old team at the Ontario Blue Jays clubhouse in Mississauga.
Travers, in his 13th season together with Dan Bleiwas, invited Josh to the Ontario Blue Jays evaluation camp.
“It was maybe the biggest argument Dan and I ever had in all those years,” Travers was saying this week. “Josh registers, Dan sees he’s only 12 and says ‘too young, we can’t let him on the field, he might get hurt.’ Josh’s first at-bat he’s facing an 18-year-old.
“First pitch is a swinging strike, Dan is calling balls and strikes so he calls strike two on a check swing -- basically to get him off the field quickly. Josh isn’t happy. He lines the next pitch past the ear of the 18-year-old pitcher, stole second, stole third. That’s how confident he was.
“Dan said ‘OK, you’re right, he’s a fit.’”
Heading into Monday and the start of the annual draft of high schoolers and collegians Naylor is projected to be the first in a parade of Canucks to go in the three-day event. The first 75 picks will be televised on MLB Network Monday night, while the remainder of the 40 rounds take place via conference call.
“It’s my 20th year coaching and he’s the best power hitter I’ve ever seen in Canada ... period,” Bleiwas said after a game at Millcroft Park in Burlington. “There really is no comparison during that time.”
* * *
How long has Josh Naylor been waiting for Monday night, draft night?
“Since forever,” Naylor said four sleeps before the big day. “well, maybe since I was 15.”
After a customer came up and shook his hand, he is sitting in a booth at a Mississauga doughnut shop without so much as a Timbit or a coffee. He’d just arrived from the 41st annual Mississauga Sports Dinner where he’d been named amateur athlete of the year.
He speaks of his mom Jenice who has the best home cooking in Mississauga (chicken fajitas) after her day is done as a probation officer for Brampton Youth Justice Services.
Of his former coach and full-time pop Chris, who works in purchasing for Dynamic Tire Corp.
And his younger brothers Noah, 15 a catcher and a shortstop and Myles, 10, who plays every position at the mosquito level.
Worst part of the pre-draft process in which he’s been contacted by all 30 teams and was once asked by a scout “if you were an animal what kind would you be?” (Naylor’s answer: “A lion or a tiger.” A Mississauga North Tiger).
And the best? “Going through this whole experience with my family and friends -- teammates like Darren Shred, Myles Gordon, Troy Daring and Conner Morro. We’re all close, all pulling for each other, a big family ... both teams.”
Besides the Ontario Blue Jays, Naylor, like Brett Lawrie, Phillippe Aumont, Scott Thorman and Kellin Deglan before him, Naylor also spends time -- a lot of time with Greg Hamilton’s Canadian Junior National Team.
* * *
In August of 2012, Naylor had finished grade 9 when he was asked to play for a Futures team against the Junior National Team by Walt Burrows, Canadian director of the Major League Scouting Bureau at Connorvale Park in Etobicoke.
Facing Cal Quantrill, now in his second year at Stanford, the left-handed hitter flew out to right, then doubled off the top of the fence facing Logan Seifrit, home from playing with rookie-class Arizona League Mariners and pulled a ground ball to first facing lefty Travis Seabrooke, who had been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles.
And when the game was over the two teams shook hands.
On and on it went as the players from each teams formed two lines until Hamilton came to Naylor and it went like this:
Hamilton: “What are you doing tomorrow?”
Naylor: “Working out with Brampton, they added me up for the bantam nationals.”
Hamilton: “How’d you like to come with us?”
Naylor “Where are you playing?”
Mom Jenice was off and running in the morning to obtain a same-day passport for her son and then it was off to the airport and Italy.
Three or four games into the trip Naylor was hitting clean-up.
With the Junior Team he has been to Korea, Australia, Mexico, Taiwan, Cuba, Italy as well as Lake Buena Vista, Fla (six times), the Dominican Republic (three trips) and St. Petersburg (twice).
That’s 50 at-bats facing drafted players on two trips to St. Pete’s, 50 at-bats against pro pitching on all six visits to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and another 50 all three trips to the Dominican where he hit five homers last month.
No wonder scouts say about Naylor “we have a pretty good history on him ... against some tough pitching.”
* * *
Asked if he could name some of longest home runs, Naylor shrugs.
Mention teammates from that first trip and away he goes, rhyming them off first by position and then batting order:
Jacob Robson, Brett Siddall, Danny Pinero, Owen Spiwak, Chris Shaw, Kyle Hann and Ryan Kellogg, (who all went to school and are also eligible for this year’s draft as well), plus Gareth Morgan, Jesse Hodges, Nathan De Souza, Dayton Dawe, Seifrit and Seabrooke (who all signed) and Quantrill (who eligible until next June), plus Mitchell Triolo and Myles Vincent.
The best pitcher he ever faced is an easy one: Shohei Otani of Japan.
“He was 95-to-98 MPH with a plus split, a two-seamer, a change and a curve. I had three strikeouts that day.”
He was 14 at the time.
Growing up he was a Boston Red Sox fan and still is. His favorite player was then and is David Ortiz.
Ortiz and Naylor are similar in that both are left-handed hitters, both have big-time power to hit tape-measure homers and cast large shadows in the batter’s box.
Dad and son, two Red Sox fans, would lie on the couch together, pop admiring Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling and his son wearing his Jason Varitek shirt rooting for Ortiz.
Scouts have compared him to 5-foot-11, 275-pound Prince Fielder now of the Texas Rangers and a first round selection of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002 as well as 6-foot, 250-pound Dan Vogelbach, a second-round choice of the Chicago Cubs in 2011.
Naylor is listed at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds.
* * *
In January of 2013, Naylor was helping out at a Toronto Blue Jays Academy clinic at the Rogers Centre.
Walking to centre field for the team picture he was introduced to Sandy Alomar, Hall of Fame father of Robbie Alomar.
Told that Naylor can rake, Alomar gazed to his left, looked Naylor up and down and without breaking stride asked “how’s your discipline?”
Naylor said “fine.”
Sandy was asked by a third party “do you mean on or off the field?”
Alomar reached across, whacked Naylor in the chest and asked “at the dinner table?”
This is what the third-ranked power bat has to look forward in the pro world: have a 1-for-10 streak and his weight is a problem.
Go deep and he’s cuddly.
See David Wells, winner of 239 career games.
* * *
Each day when school was over at St. Joan of Arc high, Ontario Blue Jays strength and conditioning coach Chris Walsh would pick up Naylor and drive him to the clubhouse in Mississauga.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he’d work on his upper body: push ups with weights on his back, chest presses laying on his back. He can do six dumbbell chest presses with 100 pounds in EACH hand.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday it was his lower body.
And on Sunday the day of rest, he didn’t rest. He did yoga.
His 90-minute work out would end at 5 PM and then he’d hit for an hour an a half with coach Brandon Dhue and then practice with his team.
“My coaches never gave up on me, they pushed me,” Naylor said giving credit to Pat Visca, Kyle DeGrace, Mike Steed, Dhue, Travers and Bleiwas. And with the Junior National Team Hyung Cho, Shawn Bowman, Cory Eckstein, Mike Johnson and Hamilton were helpful.
“Every single coach helped a lot, they told me to keep grinding, the thing about baseball is that’s there is always a tomorrow.
“My father was my most inspirational coach. He knew how to drive me. He still works out with me.”
And when son outlifts the father?
Josh teases saying “he doesn’t like to get beat, when I do beat him, I get in his face.”
* * *
A year ago Gareth Morgan was the top Canuck, selected 74th overall by the Seattle Mariners, who gave the former Ontario Blue Jay and Toronto Met outfielder a $2 million US signing bonus.
Morgan’s advice to Naylor to “be confident ... have fun playing.”
“Josh is a more advanced hitter than anyone I’ve ever coached or seen in Canada including Gareth,” said Bleiwas, who doubles as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds. “His raw power is a tick above Gareth’s but really you are comparing an 80 power (on a 20-to-80 scale) with 70, so both would be at the very highest end for amateur players. The true separator however is Josh’s ability to hit with power in game”.
* * *
Naylor says he had a 74.5% average in grade 12 and enjoyed studying world religion, international business and writer’s craft in English.
So how would he write this story of his impending draft?
“How I worked hard, how the toughest part is the waiting and how it’s nerve wracking,” the author says.
Yet this chapter is unfinished.
It’s without an ending.
The end of this chapter of his career should happen Monday night.
Long distance homers
With Canadian Junior National Team
Aug 2012, his first trip, Italy, vs. Team America, blast over right field wall, with a natural curl, 360 ft.
May 2013, Boca Chica, Dominican, vs. DSL Reds, Over right field fence and way over, 390 feet.
May 2014, Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, vs. MLB Prospect League at off prospect Hunascar Ynoa, who signed with the Minnesota Twins, came in 93 MPH, went out at 100, over right-centre field wall at 400 feet.
Sept. 12, 2014 Arturo C. Nahl Stadium, La Paz Mex., vs. Mexico, silenced home crowd with two run blast over left field wall, towering opposite shot, 330 ft.
May 21, 2015, Boca Chica, Dominican, vs DSL Twins complex, hit building that houses the players, 400 over right field.
May 25, 2015 vs DSL Yankees. Not particularly deep but a towering shot over RF fence, 340.
May 27, 2015 vs DSL Mariners. Opposite field drive, perhaps a bit wind aided but it was on a line and got out pretty quick, 340.
Ontario Blue Jays
2013, Vaughan, batting practice, Ontario Blue Jays, hit Jon Waltenbury pitch into the light standard, light disintegrated raining down on the kids standing in the outfield, a scene out of The Natural.
Sept. 2013, Carterville, Ill., vs. John A. Logan College, a moon shot.
2013, Del Ray Beach, Fla. former Bucky Dent Baseball School, a train was passing by as teammate Darren Shred yelled “hurry up, throw it so he can hit the train,” He hit the train.
May, 2014, Scarborough, vs. Team Ontario, two homers, second back to back with Gareth Morgan and to opposite field.
June, 2014, vs. Oakville Royals, three homers in doubleheader.
July, 2014, Troy, N.Y. vs. Long Island Titans, at AABC Connie Mack Regional.
Oct. 2014, High Point, NC, vs. High Point University, a missile that almost knocked down their scoreboard.
Oct. 2014, Jupiter, Fla., vs. Perfect Game New York, mammoth drive to right centre while on virtually one foot due sprained ankle.
Oct. 2014, Jupiter, Fla., vs. Florida Marlins Scout Team, Turned around 92 MPH fastball, setting then record exit speed at PG event (112 MPH off bat).
May, 2015, Scarborough, vs. London Badgers, the longest by distance as ball was picked up after rolling over 600’ from home plate after bouncing off roadway.
1B Josh Naylor, Mississauga, Ontario Blue Jays/Canadian Junior National Team
Ranking BA PG MLB ESPN CBN
61 65 59 83 1
OF Demi Orimoloye, Orleans, Ont. Ottawa-Nepean Canadians/Canadian Junior National Team
Ranking BA PG MLB ESPN CBN
41 49 62 93 3
RHP Mike Soroka, Calgary, PBF Redbirds/Canadian Junior National Team
Ranking BA PG MLB ESPN CBN
90 75 60 56 2
LHP Jeff Degano, Surrey, B.C. Indiana State University
Ranking BA PG MLB ESPN CBN
83 138 84 54 4
(BA _ Ranking on Baseball America’s top 500 list of prospects in North America)
(PG _ Ranking on Perfect Game USA top 500)
(MLB _ Ranking on MLB.com Prospects top 200)
(ESPN _ Ranking on ESPN’s top 100)
(CBN _ Canadian Baseball Network ranking of Canucks)