Naylor comes home for Tournament 12

Noah Naylor is coming home.

Following a whirlwind summer of showcase baseball, travelling from coast to coast south of the border, matching up against some of the top competition for next year’s draft, and taking the spotlight on a number of major league stages, the 17-year-old catcher is finishing his season in front of friends and family right in his own backyard.

Highlighting the list of young players in attendance, the Mississauga native will take centre stage at the fifth-annual Tournament 12, an event Naylor will be participating in for the third time. The showcase will follow his first appearance at a U18 Baseball World Cup, where Team Canada plays host in Thunder Bay, Ont., to squads from around the world.

“I look forward to T12 every year,” Naylor said. “Playing at a big-league ballpark, Rogers Centre, I love the park. I’ve been around it for a while, but playing in that event, around some great talent, and being around some great coaches, it’s definitely something to look forward to each year, getting different opinions and advice, and meeting new people. I’m going to try to make the most of this one.”

The Blue Jays-hosted event will bring the backstop’s summer season to an end, after appearances at other big league stadiums like Wrigley Field for the Under Armour All-America Game, Petco Park for the Perfect Game All-American Classic, and Marlins Park for Major League Baseball’s High School Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game festivities, among an array of other events, games with the Ontario Blue Jays, and trips with the Canadian Junior National Team.

“This summer has been crazy,” Naylor said. “You’re on a plane every other day. I mean, I look forward to every event, and all of them were very fun and I was thankful to be a part of them. It was a great summer, and especially being able to just spend it with my dad [Chris], travelling with him, it’s something I’ll always remember.”

Away from the rest of his family for much of the summer, Naylor was grateful for the time with his father, as well as a visit from his older brother Josh – also a former Tournament 12 participant, and the Marlins’ 12th-overall pick in the 2015 draft – who ventured to Petco Park to see his little brother while he was close by playing in the California League. His mom Jenice, as well as his aunt, grandmother and cousin were all able to make it to Marlins Park for the derby, also there to see  Josh represent Canada and the Padres in the Futures Game at the same time.

“The only thing that they were able to go to was the home run derby in Miami,” Naylor said of his whole family, though his little brother Myles missed out on Marlins Park, playing in Cooperstown at the time. “That was about it. But that was great, having not just my whole family there, but my Canadian family as well, like [2015 first-rounder Mike] Soroka and [2016’s eighth-overall pick Cal] Quantrill [both Futures Game participants] behind me while I was hitting, hearing them yell and cheering me on. It was a great feeling.”

Among the events the left-handed hitting catcher experienced this year, Naylor most enjoyed taking centre stage at the home of the Marlins, where he led the first round of derby competition with 15 home runs, got to watch his brother and fellow Canadians compete in the Futures Game, and spent some time talking to big leaguers and all-stars Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, Salvador Perez and Max Scherzer during MLB’s Home Run Derby.

“The home run derby was definitely a highlight of the summer, overall, that was just an amazing experience,” Naylor said. “And to be able to watch Josh play as well, in the Futures Game, that was fun. Also, I can’t really pick one over the other, but playing in both the Under Armour All-America Game, and at the Perfect Game [event in San Diego], I was very honoured to have been selected for that. Being part of that is something that I’ll take with me forever…

“I had never been to Wrigley or Petco before, and that was amazing. They gave us first-class treatment, and being part of that is indescribable. And going back to Marlins Park [after having been there when Josh originally signed with Miami], definitely reliving another moment, but this time it was for me. I loved everything about it. That was amazing. Being around the big league guys, it was unreal.”

Looking forward to finishing the summer on home soil in Thunder Bay and at Rogers Centre, Team Canada is equally excited to have the 5-foot-11, 190-pound hitter on the squad. And while comparisons have been and will continue to be drawn to his older brother, Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national team, appreciates both the similarity and differences the younger Naylor brings to the table.

“Noah brings a lot to the team,” Hamilton said. “He slows the game down, he plays under control, he plays with confidence, he’s a good, complete hitter, he gives you a good at-bat. I look at him as a good hitter with some power, as opposed to his brother, whose power kind of defined him but he was also so good hitter. I see the inverse with Noah, being a good hitter with some power. Your eyes don’t pop out with the power, where with Josh it was the power.

“They’re different personalities too. One’s going to run overtop of you and step on you to beat you, and the other competes very well. With Josh it was a vicious competitive streak, and a good kid outside of it but he was going to be a real tough, hard-nosed kid on the field. Noah plays pretty level, and plays with ease, and he has a more laid-back type personality, but he has a really good chance to be a really good hitter.”

While the younger Naylor enjoys having a sibling he can glean advice from, and who knows exactly the kinds of situations he is facing, he wants to forge a path of his own as he moves forward, though the Texas A&M commit isn’t quite sure what direction that might take him.

“I’m still in the midst of creating my own identity,” Naylor said. “Having Josh going through this whole thing before me has been helpful. He’s told me about all of his experiences, and I’m just trying to make it all my own and build my career around me, and give thanks to everybody who’s helped along the way.”

Growing up as a player with the Ontario Blue Jays, and entering his third year with Team Canada, Naylor is grateful to each program for its contributions to his evolution as a player, both on and off the field.

“I owe a lot to both teams, the Ontario Blue Jays and Team Canada,” he said. “The coaching staffs, they’ve definitely played a big part in my game and helping me become the player I am today. I’m very thankful for everybody who’s been a part of my journey, and I’ll always be thankful for that.”

Sean Travers, director of player development for the OBJ program, has seen firsthand the growth and progress in Naylor over the past decade, and couldn’t be more proud of the player and young man he’s become.

“Noah always shows people, if they say he can’t do something, he goes and does it,” Travers said. “He’s one of the most humble kids I’ve ever been around with this kind of fanfare, but his confidence is on another level. He’s thankful for every opportunity he gets, he takes advantage, and he doesn’t take things for granted. He really appreciates everything that happens for him…He’s just a special kid with special ability, who doesn’t take anything for granted, and he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around.”

Heading into next year as Canada’s top draft prospect, Naylor has been on the radar north of the border for some time, and has shown exactly what got him there and why that’s where he should stay.

“From the beginning, he received and caught the baseball well, relatively speaking for his age and this level,” Hamilton said. “He caught the ball with ease and soft hands and balance, and young catchers tend not to catch the ball. That’s the No. 1 prerequisite as a catcher, and right from the start he was able to catch the ball with balance and ease and comfort.

“It’s one thing to me that more than anything, shows that he could stay back there. And he’s got arm strength, he’s just working on the release and getting consistency as the arm strength is there. He works on release and consistency of throws, and doesn’t try to do too much, and the arm is going to play. It’s a position where you’d like to see him stay.”

Beyond his final Tournament 12, his last several months with the OBJ program, and as a member of Canada’s junior team, Naylor will look to continue impressing all those around him, and have a blast doing it.

“I’m just going to live day by day on the field and see what happens,” he said. “Every time I’m on the field I look forward to showing everybody what I have, and I’m just having so much fun playing the game.”