TORONTO — Russell Martin hasn’t seen much of Canadian first-round draft pick Josh Naylor — but he has seen his swing.
And that’s all it took to convince the Toronto Blue Jays catcher that Naylor is a special talent.
“He’s a nice, humble kid but man, he has a lot of power,” Martin said in the Blue Jays locker-room on Tuesday before taking on the Miami Marlins — the team that drafted Naylor 12th overall in the MLB amateur draft. “He’s got a nice approach at the plate, lots of power, and I think that swing is going to play at the higher level.”
Naylor, a first baseman from Mississauga, Ont., became the highest Canadian position player ever drafted when the Marlins called his name Monday night.
Former Blue Jays third baseman and Langley, B.C., native Brett Lawrie, who was chosen 16th overall by Milwaukee in 2008, previously held that distinction.
Only three Canadians — Jeff Francis of North Delta, B.C. (ninth overall in 2002), Adam Loewen of Surrey, B.C. (fourth overall in 2002) and Jameson Taillon, who grew up in Texas but holds dual citizenship (second overall in 2010) — have been selected earlier than Naylor, and each was drafted as a pitcher.
“It was good to hear (that Naylor had gone so high),” Martin said. “That’s really cool. I’m happy for him.”
The 17-year-old Naylor, who’s listed at six feet and 225 pounds, has been demonstrating his powerful swing with the junior national team since he first joined the squad in 2012 at age 15.
Since then, the left-handed hitter has helped Canada win a silver medal at the IBAF U-18 Baseball World Cup in 2012 and participated in showcase events at four different MLB stadiums — including a home run derby at his potential future home field, Marlins Park.
Last summer, Naylor made it to the final round of the MLB select junior home run derby at Target Field, launching four homers over the 23-foot high wall in right-centre but finishing second behind American Luken Baker.
Naylor played against Martin and other Blue Jays this past March when the junior national team visited Dunedin, Fla., for a spring training matchup against a Toronto split squad. Martin watched from his crouching position behind home plate as Naylor hit a single off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
Martin also saw Calgary right-hander and first-round draft pick Michael Soroka that day. Soroka, chosen by the Atlanta Braves at No. 28 on Monday night, started the game for the junior side, giving up seven runs, only one of them earned.
“I remember a kid that had good mechanics, good life on the fastball,” Martin said of Soroka. “It looked like he had good command and just knew how to pitch. He had a tough day but he looked like a pitcher out there, not like someone who was just throwing the ball.
“He had a good change-up, good off-speed pitches as well. He looked like a guy who was going to be pretty good down the road.”
Martin, who was drafted twice himself — first in 2000 to his hometown Montreal Expos in the 33rd round, and again in 2002 to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 17th round — offered some advice for Naylor.
“Well the first thing is to get good representation,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know who his agent is but you want to make sure you get taken care of financially.
“And the rest, just enjoy it. It’s baseball. Just keep doing the things that have gotten him to where he’s at now. Take the good stuff and filter out all the stuff people are going to try to tell him. That’s what’s worked for me.”
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Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press