LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — Canada’s top exports to the United States include automobiles, gold (thank you, Google) and apparently left-handed swinging first baseman with power.
Our neighbors to the north have produced two left-handed hitting first baseman in Joey Votto and Justin Morneau who have won MVP awards. Padres’ prospect Josh Naylor is looking to be the next Canadian to make his mark in professional baseball.
Naylor, 20, has been one of the better players in the California League this season, hitting a solid .287/.361/.452 (as of July 5), with eight homers, while only striking out in 15% of his plate appearances.
While the home runs have not been abundant, Naylor has shown impressive strength going the other way and an advanced approach at the plate for a hitter his age. Naylor chatted with us for a bit prior to a recent Storm game at The Diamond.
MadFriars: Going back to the experience you had in instructional league and playing in Petco Park, did that help make your transition to a new organization easier?
Josh Naylor: I mean, in the end, it’s the same game. [I’m] still trying to make the big leagues. I hope it’s with the Padres because I love this organization. I love the players and the coaches and I am just happy to be where I am and just blessed wherever they put me.
You played for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Two of the guys on the roster were Justin Morneau and Freddie Freeman. Both play your position and are left-handed; how much were you able to take away from them?
Naylor: A lot. I am really close with [Justin] Morenau. Freddie was a little more quiet — I talked to him when I could. I didn’t really want to bother [Freeman]. Both are supreme athletes and supreme hitters, [they] are All-Stars. They are the people you want to be around and I was thankful to be around them and to pick their brain and ask them a whole bunch of questions all the time, to a point where I was like “this is going to get a little annoying” but I am trying to get as much information as I can out of them because I want to be in their situation one day.
Did they give you more tips on the mental side of the game, like how to approach things or did they give you any tips on anything mechanical or just how to approach the game day-to-day?
Naylor: Everything. Everything that has to do with baseball. Day-to-day stuff, approach at the plate. Some stuff fielding-wise. Just having fun in general, life lessons, skills, how to work your way up quickly and just enjoy every moment you are in, basically.
One thing that has been impressive is that every month this year, you have been able to improve your walk rate. Your strikeouts have also decreased each mont. Do you feel that is a byproduct of you getting better at the plate or have you made an adjustment?
Naylor: I have really tried to walk more this year and kind of create a zone that I can just have pitches that I can handle and get hits and home runs or whatever. I’ve tried to be really disciplined this year — that’s what the Padres are working on with me. I take pride in it and I want to be the best hitter I can. I want to make the big leagues one day and I want to make it fast. So, I am going to try and do whatever I can to get there.
I would describe your approach this year as selectively aggressive, where you will jump out on the first pitch fastball but you have also been able to lay off the off-speed stuff out of the zone. Are you targeting a specific zone on the first pitch?
Naylor: I have the zone that I have pictured in my mind, so if it’s there, it’s there and if it’s not, I am not going to swing. I have a zone that I created with some of the hitting coaches and I have tried to get a few teammates on it too, and it’s helping them. I am just trying to do whatever I can to win.
Last year you played in the Future’s Game in San Diego and this year you will be playing in the game in Miami, as a member of the Padres’ organization. Do you appreciate the irony of it and how much are you looking forward to playing against your former organization?
Naylor: I am just going to have fun and enjoy every moment. My family is going to be there and I am excited to see them. It’s going to be a great time. Cal [Quantrill} is going, Mike Soroka [Soroka is a pitcher in the Atlanta organization] is going and he is one of my best buddies and I am excited to see him. I am just looking forward to having a good time.
You have a lot of power to the opposite field. Are you always looking to go the other way or are you just hitting the ball where it is pitched?
Naylor: In batting practice, I have my own routine. I’ll hit the ball the other way then I will pull some. I will go up-the-middle, some check-swing, I have a regular routine in batting practice. During the game, I look for pitches in my zone, look for where I want it to be and then I am going to swing. If it’s not then I am not going to swing.
Over the last few weeks, you have been hitting second in the batting order. Do you feel that is because of your approach and your ability to have good at-bats and because of your approach?
Naylor: I don’t know. I’m not a manager, a coach or a GM. I don’t know what their plan is. Whenever I see my name in the lineup I am going to try and win and do my best.
Do you approach at-bats any differently when you are in the two-hole?
Naylor: Yeah, I am trying to get on-base and help the team win. I am trying to hit balls over the fence, I am trying to take walks. I am trying to do whatever I can to get on base and score for these guys. We have an amazing lineup one through nine, so I am trying to get on base and be here for the team.