CLEVELAND -- Bo Naylor is finally up with the big league club, but he hasn’t been added to the roster just yet.
The Guardians’ No. 5 prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, will be seen floating around Progressive Field over the coming days as part of Cleveland’s taxi squad. That means he’ll be able to work out with the team, be in the dugout and catch bullpen sessions during the game, but he can’t get into any games just yet since he hasn’t been added to the active roster.
So why is the younger brother of Josh Naylor with the Guardians if he’s not on the team? Club president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti explained prior to Thursday’s series finale against the Rays:
“The alternative was he could go home, he could continue to work out in Columbus, or we could have him up here in the Major League environment,” Antonetti said. “Since there are no Minor League games left to play, we thought it made sense to have him up here to be around our staff, be around [catching coach] Sandy [Alomar Jr.], be around our coaches. At a minimum, he could be a foul tip away from being an option for us if it were needed. The more familiarity he has with our environment, the better. Where that might lead, I have no idea.”
The Guardians have had to battle with this decision over the past few weeks. In years past, September meant rosters expanded to 40 players. If that were still the case, there would have been no doubt that the younger Naylor would have been added to the active roster in order to not only get some experience, but to rest both Austin Hedges and Luke Maile as the postseason gets closer. It’s not unusual for teams to use the extra roster spots (even when the rosters only expand to 28) for a third catcher since the position is so demanding, but the Guardians opted to load their bench at other positions, leaving a red-hot Naylor in the Minors.
Naylor had a relatively disappointing 2021 season with Double-A Akron. He hit just .188 with a .612 OPS in 87 games. He worked feverishly over the offseason to make sure that wouldn’t repeat in ’22, and it has certainly paid off. Cleveland’s player development staff has raved about Naylor’s improvements all season.
“I think a big part of it was my mental side, but also just a few mechanical adjustments that we had taken care of, me and a few other guys over in Arizona in the past offseason that helped get me through this whole season,” Naylor said. “After last season, I had a goal in mind to be as consistent as possible in my routine, my breath and my overall mentality going into the game. All that I feel really came together from start to finish to this point, and I’m really happy with it.
Naylor ended his Minor League season hitting .263 with an .888 OPS, 26 doubles, four triples, 21 homers and 20 stolen bases in 118 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
“He has to first and foremost be able to receive and lead the pitching staff, which Bo has been tremendous at,” Antonetti said. “Then you layer on his offensive abilities, this ability to run the bases. It starts to get exciting to think about the possibilities. I don't think there have been too many 20/20 seasons for a Minor League catcher. I'm not sure there have been a lot of those in the last handful of years.”
Naylor has watched 16 of his closest friends make their debuts this season as he continued to rake in Triple-A, waiting for his chance. But that hasn’t deterred his mindset. Even being around the club without an official place on the roster (at least just yet) isn’t slowing him down. And he knows that an opportunity can still arise in 2022.
“I’m a big believer in everyone has their time,” Naylor said. “I feel like I really kept my head down and just worked on the stuff I needed to work on to polish my game to make sure I’m doing whatever I need to do. … If anything, I think it just gave me something more to look forward to and makes me want to make my game that much better.”