The MLB trade deadline brought the Indians a haul of young players from San Diego. Out of all those included in the deal, the one most likely to see immediate playing time is Josh Naylor. Before you ask, yes, he is the brother of Indians catching prospect and inexplicable triples machine Bo Naylor.
Drafted 12th overall by the Marlins in 2015, Naylor signed and posted a .327/.352/.418 slash in 105 PAs in rookie ball at age 18. The Marlins shipped him to San Diego toward the end of his sophomore season where the Padres immediately promoted him to High-A ball. He continued hopping up the minor league later, never staying at the same level for a full season until 2018. He hit .297/.383/.447 at Double-A San Antonio. For this effort, he earned a promotion to Triple-A to start 2019.
Going into last Season, FanGraphs rated him as the 11th-best prospect in a stacked Padres farm system, and 124th overall. His future value was assessed at 50, with room to grow in his contact and power tools. He started to show some of that promise immediately; a .936 OPS through 54 games prompted the Padres to call him up to the show at age 22.
So far in the majors — fewer than 300 total PAs — Naylor’s bat sits just below league-average. Given his accelerated path through the minor league system and the bizarre nature of 2020, I’m not sure we can definitively say anything about his quality at the major league level. I’m encouraged at the fact that he’s produced very good numbers at every level of baseball he’s played while being about two years younger than the average player.
Two things to keep an eye on as he transitions into the Indians lineup:
In previous years Naylor exercised excellent patience at the plate, drawing walks 11.1% of the time in the minors in both 2018 and 2019. This took a slight dip when he arrived in San Diego to 9%. He’s only earned 38 PAs so far this season, but his current walk percentage sits at 2.6%. I’d expect that to improve back toward double digits as he continues to get comfortable at this level.
Naylor didn’t strikeout much in the minors, either. His worst showing in this category came in 2017 after his promotion to Double-A, where he struck out 20.6% of the time. He bounced back at Double-A and Triple-A with 12%. It is either a statistical anomaly or a sign of alarming consistency that his walk and strikeout rates in two years at two different levels were identical. I’m leaning more toward the latter for this reason: despite striking out 22.9% of the time in San Diego last season, he’s down to 10.5% so far in 2020. Again, this is on a very small sample size, but it indicates a growing level of comfort with the improved pitching he’s encountered.
One last item of note is Naylor’s power, which is still developing. We might see a little bit of a jumpstart with his trade to Cleveland. Petco is a notoriously brutal ballpark for hitters and was the third-lowest overall in offensive park factors in 2019. Progressive Field is heaven by comparison, especially for left-handed hitters. Naylor goes from a bottom of the barrel to a cream of the crop run scoring environment for lefties.
I don’t expect that we’ll see a massive breakout from Naylor this season, but he is likely to produce at a league-average level. That alone is an upgrade for the worst-hitting outfield in the American League.
Given his past scouting reports and his prior success in the minors, the Indians might have plenty more than league average to look forward to. Might we might finally have a legitimate heir to Brantlantium in left field?