GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Freshly turned 17-year-old Bo Naylor could only imagine what his older brother was experiencing.
In 2017, Josh Naylor was a highly regarded prospect in the Padres’ system and decided to join Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. His playing time was sparse and his team didn’t win a game, but the idea of representing his country was a dream to him -- exactly as it is for his brother now.
As the younger Naylor heard stories from his older brother and their parents (who traveled to Miami to watch Josh compete) at the time, Bo, who was still in high school and a year away from being drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft, started to get the itch to one day be able to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Now, he has his chance.
“I think that a lot of Canadians, especially, that’s something that means a lot to them,” Naylor said. “That program really does a lot to instill that want and desire to represent their country.”
Naylor will join teammate Cal Quantrill on Canada’s roster for this year’s tournament. Josh decided against participating this time around, but Bo leaned on his brother throughout the offseason, wondering if this experience would be worth it and learning all about what Josh had gone through in 2017.
Everything Bo heard made his decision so simple: Obviously, he wanted to play.
Josh and Bo both have had experiences representing their countries before becoming professionals. They each played for Canada’s Junior National Team growing up and have beamed with pride every chance they’ve had to represent their homeland.
“When you kind of have that taste at an early age and you get an opportunity like this,” Naylor said, “it just makes things way, way more special.”
It’s so easy to say “yes” to an opportunity like this. Naylor will be able to get competitive games under his belt before the regular season gets underway and he’ll represent his country in the process. But for a player who is trying to earn his everyday spot on the big league roster, there can be concern with him being away from his team for a chunk of Spring Training. However, the soon-to-be 23-year-old backstop is up for the challenge.
“It's building those incredible relationships and really creating a great foundation beforehand,” Naylor said. “Just putting a lot of emphasis that I can while I'm here into my game, into being around a new group of guys, learning new guys, how they think and just being around that clubhouse environment.”
With the way many in Cleveland’s organization have raved about Naylor’s hunger for feedback and desire to learn, it seems like he should be able to handle this balance seamlessly. He came up at the end of the regular season last year, made just five appearances and was carried on the postseason rosters to soak up as much of the big league experience as he could.
“Going into the offseason, I knew the kind of level of the game that I wanted to get back to,” Naylor said. “Having that experience gave me that insight as to how much work I really needed to do and, with every day that passed, I really tried to make every day worth it and count.”
The Guardians have been confident that Naylor is the future behind the plate for this club, even if the future isn’t starting just yet. When the team announced that it had signed Mike Zunino -- meaning Naylor wouldn’t be the starting catcher out of the gate -- instead of getting frustrated, he was eager to learn.
“You almost ask yourself, how can you not want to take as much as you can from someone like him, who’s got a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge in this game?” Naylor said. “And me always wanting to get better at stuff, I think that when you come across someone who has the knowledge that they do like him, it only just makes you want to learn more and more.”
It’s all but certain we’ll see Naylor in the big leagues this year. When? That’s yet to be determined. So, what would a successful 2023 season look like to him?
“Ultimately, my goal is to be someone in this game who sticks around for a long time,” Naylor said. “As much knowledge as I can gain and as quickly as I can gain it, that ultimately will be my definition of success.”