Why the Guardians optioned Bo Naylor

March 11th, 2023

PHOENIX -- The writing was on the wall for .

The Guardians have been hinting since the Winter Meetings that the promising up-and-coming backstop will need more time in the Minor Leagues before he gets a permanent spot on the big league roster. Ahead of Cleveland's 12-3 loss to Milwaukee on Friday, the team officially informed him that he had been optioned to Triple-A Columbus.

"We probably over-communicated, but we told him, 'While you're [at the World Baseball Classic], we may have to make [a move], and we'll call you,'" Guardians manager Terry Francona said. "We told him, 'When you come back, we'll sit and talk,' because none of us were very comfortable over the phone."

Naylor has been on everyone’s radar for a while. He made dramatic offensive improvements throughout the 2022 season, which has caused the hype around him from the fan base to grow exponentially. But with that attention comes a lot of questions regarding this move. Let’s try to answer them:

Why not start him on the Opening Day roster?
The Guardians proved last year that they have no problem passing the baton to their youth, but with Naylor’s situation, it doesn’t make sense to rush his arrival to the big leagues. The point of calling him up at the end of last season and carrying him as an emergency catcher throughout the postseason was for him to get a taste of the Majors, get his “firsts” out of the way and learn as much as he could heading into the offseason. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to break camp just yet.

Sure, service time is always part of decisions, but this scenario is a little deeper than that. Naylor hasn’t had a full season at Triple-A (just 66 games). He just turned 23 years old, and the Guardians made the decision early in the offseason that would be the everyday catcher. If the starter role is off the table, would it make sense to slow down Naylor’s development by keeping him on the bench with sporadic playing time rather than getting him everyday work in Triple-A? Probably not.

When Francona and coaches are asked about Naylor, there’s rarely an answer that doesn’t include how much he’s willing to learn. Naylor is a sponge when it comes to receiving constructive criticism, and he would have absolutely found a way to benefit from being a big league backup to start the season if that had happened. However, it’s much harder to put those lessons into practice when a player is trying to be perfect in the random games that he’s behind the plate, trying to prove himself, knowing he won’t be in the lineup again for a few more days.

Growth can happen in the Minors and Majors. But growth happens faster in the Minors in these scenarios. And just because Naylor isn’t on the Opening Day roster doesn’t mean he won’t be up in the big leagues midway through the season.

Why now?
It might seem a little early in camp to move a big prospect who is so close to being Major League-ready over to the Minor League side, but Francona hinted last week that it was important to them to have this type of conversation with Naylor (who’s currently competing for Team Canada) before the World Baseball Classic got underway.

“I think there’s conversations that we will have with Bo before he leaves for the [World Baseball Classic] just to maybe put his mind at ease,” Francona said.

Naylor ended up finding out two days after he left camp while on the phone with Francona, which is why the group agreed to meet and talk more when he returns from Team Canada.

"He's a pretty sharp kid," Francona said. "We just said, 'Hey, go do your thing, we'll chat when you come back.'"

Who will back up Zunino?
This move leaves six catchers in camp: Zunino, Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria, David Fry, Bryan Lavastida and Zack Collins. We already know Zunino will be the starter. That leaves five to fight for the backup role, which we discussed earlier in camp. Gallagher’s experience, strong defensive numbers and ability to lead a pitching staff make him the top candidate to win the backup job until Naylor is ready.