Cleveland’s Bo Naylor Has a New Swing and a Unique Profile

Bo Naylor
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Bo Naylor made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Guardians on Saturday, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll be a mainstay in their lineup as soon as next year. His tool box and present performance are equally eye-catching. The 22-year-old Mississauga, Ontario native logged a 140 wRC+ between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, and a pair of counting stats were even more notable. Displaying unique athleticism for a backstop, Naylor swatted 21 home runs and swiped 20 bases in 24 attempts.

His emergence as Cleveland’s catcher of the future came on the heels of a confounding 2021 campaign. Returning to action following a minor-league season lost to COVID, the 2018 first-round pick struggled to the tune of a .612 OPS in Akron last year. A flaw in his left-handed stroke was the primary reason for concern. As Eric Longenhagen wrote last spring, Naylor’s swing “can really only cut through the heart of the zone.”

This past Sunday, I asked the younger brother of Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor if he felt that our lead prospect analyst’s assessment was valid.

“For sure,” Bo replied. “It was my mechanics and how I was kind of hindering myself from being able to stay on certain pitches in other parts of the zone. Over the offseason, one of the biggest things I worked on was staying connected and locked into my back hip. Doing that has cleaned up other areas of my swing which had been inconsistent in the previous season.”

Naylor made the adjustments with the help of hitting coaches at the team’s Arizona facility, to both his lower and upper half. He’s now “closer together with a little bit of a stagger,” and also holding his hands farther from his body — the latter allowing him to stay centered with his chest, which better enables him to stay through the ball. Four years removed from his amateur days, they are the first meaningful mechanical changes he’s made as a professional.

“This past offseason was the most detailed one that I’ve had working with [coaches],” he explained. “It helped me to create the swing that I have right now.”

The .263/.392/.496 slash line that Naylor put up this year — his pre-adjustment 2021 numbers were .189/.280/.332 — is only part of the story. The 6-foot, 195-pound catcher had the only 20/20 season in the minors for a player at his position. The youngster has good wheels, and he hopes to continue using them to his advantage in the big leagues.

“I had 20 steals and hopefully at some point I can grow on that number,” said Naylor, who expressed surprise that he’s not asked about his running game more often than he is. “At a new level it’s something that I’ll have to get better at, but I’d like to keep it in my game. The position presents its challenges through a long season, but I have a lot of trust in my prep routine and the weight room staff we have here — the guys who will help me stay as flexible as possible. We’ll see what happens in the future, but I’d like to [keep running] and maybe have another 20/20 season.”

As Longenhagen wrote back in April, “Naylor’s foot speed and power are special for the position.” Add in the new-and-improved swing that helped propel him to the big leagues, and it’s easy to see why he’s gone from a question mark to No. 49 in our MLB Prospect Rankings. Reportedly a strong candidate to be on Cleveland’s postseason roster, he has emerged as one of the most-intriguing young players in the game.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Lunch Anglemember
1 year ago

Pleasantly surprised to see a player so easily agree about criticism of his game! Shows maturity. And I’m sure it’s easier to say now after having successfully made adjustments to obviate the criticism. Which isn’t easy to do–definitely bodes well for his future. Excited to see him rival Realmuto for the C SB crown!