Help us Oh Bo Naylor-obi, you’re our only hope.
Poor Star Wars pun out of the way, Bo Naylor is expected to arrive in the Guardians clubhouse today and to start in tomorrow’s series finale against the Diamondbacks. While the Guardians have not officially announced the move, and he may not play in tonight’s game, it was reported on Friday that the promotion was coming. So it’s only a matter of time.
The team’s official Twitter account also dropped a subtle hint a few minutes ago.
Cleveland moved on from catcher Mike Zunino with a DFA on Friday night to add Touki Toussaint to the 40-man roster, leaving them at 25 players for last night’s game in Arizona. As a result, Naylor can be added today without another roster move.
This will not be Bo’s MLB debut, as he joined his older brother, Josh, on the Guardians for eight plate appearances late last September, occupied a spot on the bench as the third catcher during their playoff run, and played in a doubleheader against the Mets in May. He hasn’t recorded his first major-league hit, yet, though, so there are plenty of firsts to which Guardians fans can look forward.
Bo was the first pick by the Cleveland Guardians as the 29th pick in the 2018 MLB draft and is currently ranked as the Guardians' No. 1 prospect by FanGraphs (since Daniel Espino’s injury) and the 47th-best prospect in MLB. MLB Pipeline also has Bo 47th among MLB prospects, but fourth best on the Guardians. Kiley McDaniel for ESPN had Bo sixth on the Guardians and 91st in MLB. Finally, Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Bo as the sixth-best prospect on the Guardians and 55th-best in all MLB.
The issues the Guardians have with their catchers are no secret. Since 2016, they rank last in MLB in catcher wRC+ at 64, five points behind the Rockies. While the Guardians have had some great defensive catchers during that time period, this was not the case with Mike Zunino, who had -8 defensive runs saved, -5 rCERA (a metric measuring runs saved by a catcher due to their effects on pitcher ERA), and -1 rSB (a metric measuring runs saved by a catcher’s effect on the running game). While Cam Gallagher has been much better defensively, he has a -8 wRC+. Cleveland catchers in 2023 have combined for 41 wRC+ and a 36% strikeout rate. Even including David Fry’s offensive explosion against San Diego, it’s been mostly an unmitigated disaster for Cleveland catchers that have made Guardians fans long for the halcyon days of Austin Hedges and his 40 wRC+ with gold glove defense.
Now, it seems the organization has joined Guardians fans in looking to turn the page and begin the process of kicking off a new era with Naylor as the starting catcher. Since the beginning of the 2022 season, he has put up a 134 wRC+ between Akron and Columbus with a 22.2/16.8 K/BB%, with 34 homers and 22 steals in 632 plate appearances.
Now, wipe the drool off your face and pop your eyes back in your head; Naylor is unlikely to be quite that amazing in Cleveland. Steamer projects him to put up a 99 wRC+ for the rest of 2023 and ZiPS says 85 wRC+. If he is able to get 300-400 plate appearances, the robots see him hitting 8-10 home runs and stealing 4-6 bases. He has allowed three passed balls in Columbus and he has only gone 11-66 in base-stealing attempts against him. He has a good arm in terms of arm strength, so it’s accuracy, pop time, and working with pitchers to disrupt baserunner timing that will be the key. A number closer to his 12/41 caught-stealing form from 2022 would be far more tolerable.
Playing in the World Baseball Classic, Naylor had a bit of a rough go as a backstop for Cal Quantrill in a game I saw, but there were some real highlights in other spots, including a home run:
... and some nice throws to nab baserunners, like this dart to spoil a steal attempt by former Cardinal, former Guardian, former Guardian again, now current Cardinal again, Oscar Mercado:
Bo Naylor seals a slick strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play for Canada by nabbing Oscar Mercado at second pic.twitter.com/cjWLvuYqHt— Casey Drottar (@CDrottar19) March 14, 2023
While he hasn’t logged a steal so far in 2023, Bo still has above-average speed for a catcher as demonstrated in this triple for Columbus:
Oddly, Bo Naylor is 0/2 on steals this year after a 20 steal season in 2022, but here's a triple, showing that the wheels for a catcher are still solid. pic.twitter.com/TfAqovx1FR— Justin L. (@JL_Baseball) May 11, 2023
It is incredibly cool — like, so cool I don’t know that we can really overstate it — that Josh and Bo Naylor will be playing together as brothers on the Guardians. Josh has been an offensive standout for the Guardians and I can’t help but imagine the two of them going deep in the same inning.
Last year, Bo talked to Andre Knott about the experience of getting to play in the majors with his brother:
As I consider Naylor’s arrival, I find myself both excited and a little anxious. Excited, of course, that it looks like he is here to integrate himself into the team and, hopefully, become the starting catcher for the Cleveland Guardians in short order. Anxious because I feel like many fans wildly underestimate how difficult it is to succeed at the major league level as a catcher.
There are going to be a lot of growing pains and some of those growing pains will probably cost the Guardians a win or two. Hopefully, Naylor’s improved performance as a hitter will compensate for this likelihood. However it turns out, the end result is going to make all of those growing pains worth it: a player who will be a solid defensive catcher with the outside potential of hitting 15 homers and stealing 15 bases.
Remember how the Athletic’s Zack Meisel reported that Bo Naylor took it upon himself to become fluent in Spanish and speaks it with remarkable ease now? Remember how he took on catching upon turning pro and jumped in with both feet to learn the most difficult position in the sport? Remember how he made his way into pro-ball from Canada which is no easy feat? I’m very optimistic that a hard-working, good kid like Noah “Bo” Naylor is going to have Guardians fans falling in love with him before long, but we do need to be ready to practice some patience as he gets his feet under him.
Welcome, Bo. Know how much we’re looking forward to seeing you do your thing every night for Cleveland.