Hockey isn’t the only sport where Canadians can turn professional, not by a long shot. The culture of baseball is changing and Josh Naylor is one of those players breaking stereotypes. He grew up in the Ontario Blue Jays system, an elite baseball team known for grooming their understudies for college ball, and ultimately the majors. Last year, Naylor was drafted 12th overall by the Miami Marlins, making him the highest Canadian position player ever drafted to the big leagues. This was all done while drawing comparisons to slugger Prince Fielder.
“I’m very thankful for the tools I have and all the coaches I’ve ever had working with me and taking my game to another level,” Naylor said. “My parents have always been by my side and supported me with baseball and the emotional side. It’s amazing to be compared to such an all-star [Fielder] and I’m excited for what the future holds.”
Coming from Mississauga, a city located on the outskirts of Toronto, Naylor was always the big kid on the block when it came to baseball. The 18 year old is now six feet, 225 pounds, but he wasn’t much smaller growing up. No matter the size of the player, being drafted from Canada is a tough feat to attain, but don’t tell Naylor that.
“When I started to see some of my friends go through the draft, I thought to myself, ‘I want this to be me. I want to have a career like so and so in the big leagues, be an all-star, win a hitting title …’ I’ve always worked hard, stayed humble and kept my head down and just tried my best to succeed. It’s always been in my game plan.”
To get to where he is today, the young power-hitter also showcased his ability to play with the Canadian Junior National team. His brother, Noah, is following in his footsteps while finding success at the national level as well. Naylor says they are equally responsible for building the strength of his game.
“We travelled across the world. I have to thank Greg Hamilton [head coach] for sticking with me when I was young and for working with me. Playing on that team was wonderful, I still got butterflies every time I put on the uniform. It was just insane and I loved every moment I played for my country.”
Now, there’s no doubt the game of baseball is growing exponentially here in Canada. Look no further than last year’s draft class where there were more Canadians selected by big league clubs than ever before. And, of course, we all know the passion in between the white lines was in full force with what the Toronto Blue Jays were able to do in 2015. Naylor wanted to weigh in on the current Canadian baseball situation, echoing these sentiments.
“I think Canada’s on the [rise] when it comes to baseball. I think we have a lot of talent. The Ontario Blue Jays and the top programs in British Columbia and Calgary are also on the [rise]. Thank God for Baseball Canada for giving players that exposure to play in the States and to play across the world and to be exposed to a lot of scouts … We are grinders on the field. If we get hit we are going to get right back up. It’s kind of like the hockey mentality.”
Fast forwarding to Naylor’s current situation within the Miami Marlins organization, the slugger believes the developmental programs gave him a head start when jumping from the amateurs to the professional leagues.
“Playing with the Blue Jays and with the national team, they got me prepared for what I was getting into. I didn’t really have anything to worry about. I knew what to expect. I knew I was going to see that 95-100 m.p.h. fastball on a daily basis … both teams prepared me for where I am today.”
His first year in the Gulf Coast League, Naylor hit for a .327 average, while adding one home run in 25 games. Currently, the first baseman is hitting .258 in class-A with the Marlins farm team, and talked about his expectations ahead of the campaign.
“I always expect to play hard until the last out, have fun on the field and try and help my team win. If there is a runner on second I’m going to do my job and try and move him over and hopefully I do it. I’m on teams to do my job, get runners in and hopefully show some power.”
One of the perks of being drafted to the Marlins is the signing of Barry Bonds as their hitting coach. Naylor has yet to have a chance to talk to him, but is hoping he gets the opportunity sometime down the road.
“The big league team is travelling in and out of our diamond or they will play across the street [in spring training]. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him a bit but hopefully the time comes and when it does I’m going to absolutely pick his brain and figure out what he thought when he was at the plate and get his mindset into my mind.”
Bonds is one of the most prolific home run hitters in the rich history of professional baseball, so there’s no reason to doubt why the Marlins picked him up to mentor the players on the big league club. He has also been absorbed into talks about the use of performance enhancing drugs throughout the years, but this is something that doesn’t get to Naylor whatsoever, and he’s glad that a potential hall of famer is on board.
“He’s one of those coaches who has been around the game, who’s seen the best pitching. Everyone has their time when they struggle. He may have been through that, but you can talk to him about how he got through it and his plan of action to step forward and to be better. It’s wonderful having such an icon like him on our team.”
Now that the 18 year old has been drafted, more responsibilities come with his new occupation. With those responsibilities comes big league money. Naylor signed a $2.25 million signing bonus with the Marlins, but he doesn’t let the money go to his head.
“I think I maybe bought a pair of shoes, that’s it. I’m not that type of flashy-flashy guy with my money. I spend humbly and live humbly, just not go to an extreme where money can be an issue one day. I want to be able to save and hopefully be able to provide for a family down the road.”
Naylor has certainly come a long way to get to where he is now. From Mississauga, Ont. to the big show, there is a great chance this tremendous talent will one day find himself playing in a MLB ballpark. Keep an eye out for him.