Don't think. Just play. Bo Naylor continues strong September

September 30th, 2023

DETROIT -- In the Guardians’ hitting cage, there’s a picture hanging for everyone to see. It displays a cycle of what a batter goes through. As catcher Bo Naylor described it: “Feel something, work it out too much and then you basically say, ‘Alright, forget about it. Don’t think about it.' And then, success.”

It’s a visual representation of a simple solution: Don’t think. Just play. And that’s exactly what’s led to Naylor’s strong final month of the 2023 season.

Naylor added to his hot stretch in the Guardians’ 7-5 victory over the Tigers on Friday night at Comerica Park with a 404-foot, two-run homer and a ground-rule double.

“I know I said earlier, when he shows up [next season], he’s gonna be better,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “You’re seeing that with young players, but it sure bodes well. I mean, you got a catcher that’s throwing up some crooked numbers OPS-wise. That’s exciting.”

The Guardians surely have been searching for exactly that: A catcher that can throw up some crooked numbers OPS-wise. Over the last few years, Cleveland has been successful in finding quality defensive catchers to not only lead a pitching staff but guide young hurlers through their transitions to the big leagues. But each time, those backstops haven’t brought much to the table, offensively.

This year, the Guardians hoped that signing free agent catcher Mike Zunino would help bring some power until Naylor was ready. Instead, Zunino struggled and it was clear it was time to turn toward the future. Naylor didn’t hit the ground running, but the more opportunities he’s gotten to get in the lineup, he’s starting to show what potential he could have moving forward.

“He’s looked great,” Guardians starter Cal Quantrill said. “He works hard. He’s a good guy. He does his research and there’s no limit on what he could become as a catcher. I think that the fact he can also do what he did with the bat today is quite the bonus.”

Since Aug. 19 (a span of 26 games), Naylor has hit .342 with a 1.187 OPS, eight doubles, seven homers and 18 RBIs. Prior to that, he had been hitting just .179 with a .592 OPS in his first 39 games of the season. So, what changed? Naylor made it to the third step of that diagram in the hitting cage: “Forget about it. Don’t think about it.” And suddenly, success followed.

“It’s like this ongoing cycle,” Naylor said. “I think every baseball player kind of goes through that, but ultimately, you play your best when you don’t have so many thoughts going through your head.”

There are two games remaining in the Guardians’ season. Naylor played in five in 2022 before he was carried on the postseason roster to gain some experience from the dugout in the most competitive environment. Now, he has 65 games to add to his résumé, which should only add to his confidence heading into Spring Training next year, especially with how his final month has gone.

And when Naylor was asked what he’s learned about himself this season, he already started to show that his confidence is building.

“I think that I can play at this level, hang with the guys and ultimately be my own player,” Naylor said. “While there’s been a lot of downs, there’s been a lot of ups, and in every experience I’ve taken something from it and I’m just trying to move forward with that same mindset.”

But Naylor isn’t turning the page on 2023 just yet. There are still two games to play -- contests that Cleveland desperately wants to win to send Francona into retirement on the best note that he can after the club was eliminated from the playoffs. So, Naylor isn’t thinking too far ahead. For now, he’s just focusing on the next pitch. Nothing else.

“I’m feeling really good,” Naylor said. “Just trying to keep my mind fresh and just focus on one thing at a time and I think it’s been helping me to this point. That’s kind of where I’ve been for the past little while and it’s been helping me. Just kind of trying to stay on that track for the last few games.”