Name: Clint Naylor
DOB: August 3, 1988
He played for the Australian Academy that year and found some fame as one of the few Aussies signed to play baseball in the United States.
"We signed him at 16 and he played some third base and switched to catching and only caught about 20 games when we signed him," Padres' director of international scouting Randy Smith said.
A year later, Naylor was here to stay. His body had shown signs of maturity and he was ready for his first taste of game-action – in games that counted – professionally.
After grinding it out during extended spring, Naylor picked up 20 starts in the Arizona Rookie League. He ended the year hitting .167 but drew 23 walks to 10 strikeouts – and he did score two runs on his 18th birthday.
"He just turned 18 and he never played that many games," Padres' roving catching instructor Carlos Hernandez said. "At that age it is real hard…remember those kids are playing every day. His body is not used to it. It is demanding and this is professional now."
But playing at 17 was a challenge. Naylor was a skinny kid with limited strength and his primary duties remained catching. It wasn't easy for the young backstop to head to the mound and calm a pitcher – one who could be five or more years older – down.
By the middle of July, however, Naylor earned the praise of his peers. He made it through a tough stretch with Brian Hernandez and Ali Solis ailing to start four straight days in 100-plus degrees heat, and he was crouching on successive days after an off day to give him six straight starts.
The pitchers drew upon that strength and went 4-2 over that stretch of games. It wasn't just his heart that won them over it was his ability to call a sound game, frame the ball well, and his knack for being a natural receiver. He showed a nice target and had a good feel for his pitching staff, making the right calls in key situations.
"Naylor is a warrior," right-handed prospect Drew Miller said. "Solis and Hernandez had been kind of injured and their backs had been a little sore. He caught four games in a row for us in all the gear with it being 116 outside. That is a warrior to me."
"He can be a junior in high school and is playing in this league," said 2006 AZL Padres manager Carlos Lezcano. "He is a very young kid. Very smart and calls a very good game."
Despite six passed balls, he blocks the plate well and keeps the ball in front of him as best as possible. He also posted five errors with many of those coming from trying to overthrow to compensate for his lack of strength.
"He has to learn how to block, he has to learn how to call games, he has to know how to develop a relationship with the pitchers – they have to understand that the pitchers are their best friend," Hernandez added. "He has to try and learn how to show the pitching staff that he is back there for them. The pitcher has to have confidence in him and the way to do that is showing he can block and he will take care of the game."
The catcher threw out 28 percent of the runners attempting to steal, 11-of-40. His counterparts, Hernandez and Solis, threw out 36 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
At the plate, Naylor's biggest knock is strength. His frame was conducive to easy groundouts when he did put bat on ball but he rarely got the rock over the infield.
"Naylor, not only has the best eye on the team and the idea of the strike zone, but Nails is just too young right now and not strong enough," AZL hitting coach Manny Crespo said. "He knows it. We all know that once he gets stronger he is going to be a really good hitter. Not only because of his idea for the strike zone but because he will make more contact. He won't walk as much because he will hit the balls that he fouls off right now. He knows it. We talk about it all the time. He had a great last day of the season, 2-for-3 with two walks. Great way to end the season and he is going to be just fine."
Not once during the year did he pull the ball to right field for a fly out. Only one of his hits skirted through the infield and actually reached the right fielder. And just six of his outs total made it into the outfield. The majority of his at bats led to ground outs to second base and shortstop.
The task ahead simple – put on muscle mass. He went back to Australia in the off-season and put on 20 pounds, working out in the gym and increasing his portion size.
"He needed to get stronger and needed a mental break too from that first year in the states," said Smith.
His bat head was slow through the zone last season and he was late on most pitches. The added muscle has given him a little more zing in his bat speed to go along with a new sense of assuredness.
Being more confident in the box, Naylor will likely also add a little aggressiveness to his game and try and hit those pitches he missed out last year because he didn't want to take the bat off his shoulder for fear of the tap out.
What will be tough in the coming year is the penchant for sacrificing an incredible batting eye to accomplish the task. He is far ahead of his peers in his ability to see the rotation of the ball and decipher whether it is a ball or a strike. Losing that would take away a big part of his game.
"Coming back a little stronger – he is going to get his walks, I will guarantee that, but he will also swing the bat a little more," Crespo noted of Naylor's added weight.
While his first duty remains catching, this could be an interesting year for the young prospect. How will his strength translate offensively and defensively and where will it put his developmental timetable?
"It is a long process but everybody is happy with these kids," said Hernandez. "They know that baseball is all about being professional. There is a lot for any baseball player to learn. These kids are on top of that. They know this is a job and that they have to improve every year and learn as much as they can."
Naylor has quick feet and is fundamentally sound from glove to hand. He bounces out of his crouch well but lacks the ideal strength to fire lasers into second base. Instead, his ball has a slight loft on it – that will be corrected with age and added muscle mass.
ETA: One truth is young catchers are extremely hard to project, unless your name is Joe Mauer. Therefore, projecting Naylor's success is a difficult. He has the tools that say he can see success but time will bear out whether he meets the lofty goals.