Josh Naylor has already hit balls out at Marlins Park, as a 15-year-old in a home run-hitting contest. The Marlins hope it’s not long before Naylor, a burly 17-year-old high school first baseman in the Prince Fielder mold, is doing it there for them in a big-league uniform.
The Marlins on Monday used their first-round pick (12th overall) on Naylor, a 6-5, 225-pound left-handed slugger from St. Joan of Arc Catholic H.S. near Toronto.
“There’s some Prince Fielder in this guy,” said Stan Meek, Marlins vice president of scouting. “He’s got that kind of bat speed, and that kind of power.”
And power is a scarce commodity nowadays, which explains why the Marlins selected Naylor higher in the draft than most analysts figured.
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The Marlins selected left-handed pitcher Brett Lilek out of Arizona State with their second-round pick (50th overall). Lilek went 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA for the Sun Devils this season, striking out 66 in 78 2/3 innings.
“He’s a big strong left-hander, a 3-pitch guy with a fastball up to 95,” Meek said of Lilek. “A lot of upside to him. He really in our mind was a first-round pick we got in the second round. The kind of delivery and arm action is kind of in the mold of a Jon Lester.”
Though shortstops were in high demand in the draft — the first three selections were shortstops and six total were selected in the first round — Naylor was the first first baseman to be taken.
“There’s never a lot of power in any draft,” said Meek, adding that power is also something that is difficult to develop in young prospects. “So we’ve just tried to add some power to the system. We just felt like this guy was the unique guy in the draft because of the power.”
Though Naylor doesn’t turn 18 until later this month, Meek said he figures to advance more quickly through the minors than most high school talents.
Naylor has already played for the Canadian National Team, and once managed to collect a base hit off the Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey in an exhibition contest.
“We figured if he can hit a knuckleball, he can hit anything,” Meek said of Naylor facing Dickey. “He’s advanced. Even though he is 17 and he is young, he is really well past his years in terms of experience.
“I think he’ll move as fast as his bat lets him. If he performs, I think he’ll move pretty quick.”
Meek also doesn’t think playing in Marlins Park will mute Naylor’s power.
“His kind of power is really unaffected by the size of his park,” Meek said. “He can hit balls in the upper deck of this park.”
Naylor has already done that, putting several home runs in the upper deck in right while taking part in a high school home run contest when he was 15.
“That was amazing,” said Naylor, who hit a number of home runs into the upper deck, including one that traveled more than 450 feet. “That was my first time down there. It was just the experience of a lifetime. I was trying to do my best to hit just one.”
Naylor wasn’t on most analysts’ first-round mock draft boards. But his power was recognized.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law said Naylor ranks “among the best raw thunder in the entire draft pool.”
Even Naylor wasn’t expecting to be taken so high.
“I was really, really surprised, kind of honored,” Naylor said.
Meek said Naylor is capable of playing left field, but is better suited for first base, which is where the Marlins intend to play him.
“The body’s not great [looking],” Meek said of Naylor’s build. “But there’s a good athlete in that body. He runs well for his size.”
Meek said the Marlins also took a hard look at selecting a college pitcher with their top pick, but opted instead for Naylor.
“We’ve seen him hit good pitching, hit consistently, and hit with power,” Meek said.
▪ On the same day the Marlins were drafting for the future, they promoted one of their former high-round draft picks — left-handed pitcher Adam Conley — from the minors.
Conley was called up from Triple A New Orleans on Monday after reliever Bryan Morris was placed on the disabled list with a lower back strain.
After taking Jose Fernandez with their first-round pick in 2011, the Marlins selected Conley out of Washington State University in the second round.
Conley has gone 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA in 10 starts this season for New Orleans. He’ll likely be used out of the bullpen in long relief for the Marlins.