Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Emerging Star Leading the First Place Cleveland Guardians

Not many expected the Cleveland Guardians to enter late April with the best record in Major League Baseball. Additionally, not many expected the perpetually weak Guardians offense to be one of the strongest units in the game. However, both are reality in the young 2024 season, and Josh Naylor and his power output deserve a lot of credit.

Cleveland has spent years searching for offensive firepower to complement José Ramírez and a great pitching-heavy system. Naylor has represented one of few acquisitions or homegrown bats that have actually developed into a quality offensive contributor. Despite his past success, Naylor has taken his game to a whole new level this season, and its impact on the team is clear.

Josh Naylor is Emerging as a Star

The Guardians initially acquired Naylor at the 2020 trade deadline from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Mike Clevinger. Scouts always viewed Naylor as having plus-plus raw power and a potentially above-average hit tool. With a pitching-rich farm system, Cleveland hoped to turn the veteran Clevinger into many offensive pieces, including a game-changing slugger in Naylor.

The Canadian took a couple of years to get his footing in the majors, but finally took off in 2022. From 2022 through 2023, Naylor hit .282/.336/.471 (126 OPS+) with 37 homers and 59 doubles in just under 1,000 plate appearances.

Naylor quickly became a fan and clubhouse favorite with his fiery personality and leadership abilities. However, it always seemed that he could reach another level. Whether that meant better production or better health, Naylor needed to show more in order to cement himself in Cleveland’s long-term plans.

Well, he might be doing just that in 2024.

Josh Naylor Tapping Into His Raw Power

In 22 games this season, Naylor is hitting .321/.387/.605 with six homers and five doubles. Among those qualified, Naylor leads all first basemen with a 188 wRC+ while featuring the second-lowest strikeout rate. Plus, he ranks among the best hitters in MLB in metrics like Barrel%, Average Exit Velocity, and xWOBA, which measures quality of contact and results.

One way in which Naylor has elevated his game is through his power output. According to MLB Network, Naylor leads the majors (among hitters with 400 plate appearances) with a .340 batting average since May 15, 2023. During this time, he ranks 10th in slugging.

Naylor is a big person who, as mentioned earlier, always featured great raw power. One might have thought the lefty would have tapped into his power in the majors before his pure hit ability. However, that interestingly was not the case with Naylor.

As the 26-year-old developed, his slugging percentage increased each year. It rose from .452 to .489 from 2022 to 2023 and currently sits above .600. Some sort of regression should come for Naylor later this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t maintain a level of increased production.

For example, he is on pace for a high 40’s home run total. While he likely won’t maintain that pace, it’s realistic for him to hit 30 homers, which would blow away his previous career-high of 20. He’s already proven his ability to hit above .300 in a season. However, he is elevating his game by driving the ball for extra bases and homers rather than settling for singles.

Naylor’s Future in Cleveland

Naylor represented a possible trade candidate this season if Cleveland struggled. He is under control through next season and the Guardians traded for a top first base prospect, Kyle Manzardo, at last year’s deadline. While they always loved Naylor’s personality and potential, he just might not have been a fit long-term.

If the Guardians had the 2024 version of Naylor earlier this decade, they would have easily been a more serious World Series contender. However, they have yet to commit to him long-term due to uncertainties surrounding his health, his true profile, and the team’s potential.

If Naylor’s hot start represents true development, he will become one of the best hitters in the game. The first place Guardians would love to keep him around after years of desperately searching for offense. Unfortunately, young hitters who hit for above-average power and average while not striking out don’t grow on trees.

Naylor might quickly be pricing himself out of Cleveland’s long-term plans. But for now, they’ll be happy to have this version of Naylor for 2024 and worry about the future at a later date.


Photo Credit: © David Richard-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message