Photo Credit: TCP Photography/Courtesy Lake County Captains
#61 – Joe Naranjo, 1B
Age (2022 season)
2019 Draft, 3rd Round
High-A Lake County
Joe Naranjo 2022 scouting report and grades
R5 Eligible 2023
Build & Background
Naranjo is a small for the position first basemen. He’s an undersized target that has a moderate, athletic build. He’s high-waisted and added some upper body strength throughout the 2021 season with room to grow still. He was a Cal State Fullerton commit in high school and was the only first basemen drafted by Cleveland in the top 10 rounds since 2014 when they plucked Bobby Bradley with the same exact pick (3rd round, Pick 23). Cleveland really challenged him in 2021, sending him to High-A Lake County as a 20/21 year old for his first non-complex league season, especially after a year away from games due to the pandemic.
What Naranjo does well
With relatively short levers, Naranjo has a quick, compact stroke. He’s short to the ball, has quick hands and a line drive swing, geared for contact. He’s got a good eye at the plate, works the count, keeps counts alive with his eye and fouling off pitches and draws walks at an above average rate, so far. While not a plus runner, he’s got solid speed for a first basemen.
As a part-time pitcher in high school, Naranjo has more than a solid arm at first base. If his bat allows him to stick at the position, it can be an asset for him. He didn’t throw particularly hard in high school, or he would have been drafted as a pitcher, considering that he’s left handed. But he threw hard enough to pitch in a competitive high school environment and it serves him well as a defender. He’s also an athletic defender around the bag, showing quality footwork and instincts. Naranjo has good range for a first basemen as well. He could handle the outfield if first base doesn’t work long term.
Where Naranjo needs to improve
The amount of contact Naranjo makes is fairly solid for a player his age in High-A a season ago. That being said, he still posted a higher strikeout rate than expected for a player with his skill set, or at least the way his is going to have to play out. When he makes contact, he didn’t impact the ball a significant amount. As a first basemen, he projects to have a hit over power profile, which is a difficult way to find major league success at the position. Not many players historically have had a lot of long term major league success with that profile. Finding a way to add more power, cut the strikeouts down are imperative for Naranjo as he starts to gain more experience, in order to improve his chances to stick at the position. Occasionally, he will be too passive at the plate and take called quality, hittable pitches for strikes, which did inflate his strikeout rate a little bit.
His speed probably wouldn’t play exceptionally well in the outfield, but it would be enough. He’s atypically small as a target at first base, although he really can’t do much to improve that, unfortunately. So he’ll have to continue to improve as a receiver at the position, continuing to stay low and balanced on throws in the dirt to him and knowing when to come off the base for a throw. He’d have a good arm as a right fielder but it might be a little fringy in right.
Though he didn’t have enough velocity to be drafted as a pitcher, even as a left-hander, his arm would at least be playable in left, and maybe a bit fringy in right field. He’s a good enough athlete that he could handle the outfield if Cleveland asked him to try in pro ball. Being able to pitch and play a position, even as a higher school player, suggests that he can count athleticism as a positive skill. He’s very mature for his age.
Naranjo is one of the more interesting but tougher player profiles in the Cleveland organization. If he is to stick at first base, he’s got a high bar to clear to have success. Pavin Smith in 2021 for Arizona had 11 homers and a 96 wRC+ for Arizona, but he played more games in the outfield than first base. Eric Hosmer and Jake Bauers are the only real examples in 2021 of left handed throwing, left handed hitting first basemen that garnered playing time. Hosmer was stuck on a big contract, but San Diego tried to move it. Bauers of course was let go by Cleveland in May, finally. So there’s just not a lot of good examples. Historically, Casey Kotchman comes to mind. Narnajo has to hit for a high average and get on base, if the power never comes. He may need to add outfield to his pro resume to pad his chances at a MLB future. Bauers was once a top-100 prospect and Naranjo was quite young in 2021, so there’s still plenty of time for him to shape his future, but barring an unforeseen power spike, chances are he’s an org player who will have a chance as a call-up bench player if he adds outfield to his repertoire. He may repeat High-A Lake County in 2022 to start, but there shouldn’t be anyone blocking his playing time in Double-A Akron if Cleveland continues to be aggressive with him.
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