San Bernardino, California —— On Tuesday afternoon, the San Diego Padres announced that they had promoted first base prospect Josh Naylor to Double-A San Antonio. Naylor, 20, had been slashing .297/.361/.452/.813 in his second try at High-A Lake Elsinore in 2017, with 16 doubles, eight home runs, and 27 walks in 72 games (283 at-bats). It’s a bit of a surprising promotion right now, with Naylor coming fresh off the Futures Game in Miami on Sunday. Plus, I certainly agree with Baseball Prospectus evaluator Wilson Karaman in that I have also seen Naylor take some noticeably bad, checked-out at-bats in the past few weeks.
That’s a short-term issue, though, and whether it was this week, or next month, or next year, Naylor is far ahead of the curve in the San Diego Padres’ system and was soon going to find himself in Double-A regardless. My bigger question mark surrounding the Canadian first baseman is his relatively limited ceiling if he doesn’t hit in the big leagues like everybody is hoping that he will. Naylor is, to use a euphemism, a ‘bad body’ guy. He’s also left-handed with extremely little foot speed and an unimpressive arm. That means he’s 100% guaranteed to be stuck at first base the rest of his career. And that means he really better hit, ideally for a nice little mix of average and power.
It’s not unlike New York Mets first base prospect Dominic Smith playing in Triple-A Las Vegas right now, for Smith, too, has no shot to play anywhere in the field besides first base and thus must derive all his value from an everyday gig at the position and a spot as a mainstay in the middle of a big league lineup. I’m (extremely) bullish on Smith to do that; I’m not nearly as optimistic that Josh Naylor can meet the same fate. It almost makes me wonder whether he’d be better served in an American League organization where he can split time between first base and designated hitter just to pick up some versatility rather than being asked to play 150+ games at first base every year in the National League.
There’s a lot to like about Naylor’s swing, and it’s improved quite a bit since I saw him a year ago in his first shot at Lake Elsinore, but I wonder about his focus and maturity in light of times when he shows off some noticeably bad pitch tracking and recognition. He gets out on his front foot a lot and makes more than his fair share of weak contact in poor, non-competitive, and very brief at-bats. His power stroke is coming along a bit and I like him to be a gap-to-gap guy, but a lot like another first baseman recently promoted out of the Cal League, I’m skeptical that the San Diego Padres will ever see significant over-the-fence power from Josh Naylor. Without significant power, he’d better hit for average a la Dominic Smith, or else Naylor will find himself struggling to recoup value with such a limited defensive role and lack of overall tools and versatility. I’m not yet sold on that happening.
All this could be wrong, of course, and my personal preference for Smith’s game over Naylor may certainly and quickly prove unwise. Player evaluation isn’t exactly a science for those who have been doing it for decades, much less a relative neophyte like myself, and so if Josh Naylor eventually wins himself a batting title and Smith is the one who washes out of the game, hey, I’ll wear that. Baseball is hard, and I’m bound to be wrong at least as often as I’m right. But after having watched Naylor play several dozen games between 2016 and 2017, I truly am skeptical that he’ll be the first baseman of the future in San Diego. Double-A should be a great test for him to that end, though, for this is the great separator level for so many prospects.
Josh Naylor, 1B, San Diego Padres — Scouting Video
To that end, we have quite a bit of video up on San Diego Padres 1B Josh Naylor, all of which is broken down by series/time period which you can see below:
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