The Red Sox yesterday reached agreement with Daniel Nava, signing him to a one year contract for $1.85 million. Nava was eligible for arbitration but accepted the Sox one year offer.
This leaves the Sox with eight potential outfielders and some of these are obviously not going to be around when the season starts. Nava may end up traded before the season starts but he also may be around when the outfield jam is worked out as he also has the ability to fill in at first base when needed. Of course, Alan Craig can also do that but he will have to prove he can still hit in order to stay around Boston himself
Nava’s rise to the big leagues has been called a Cinderella Story, but,to me, it’s more a lesson in the value of hard work and determination. After graduating from St. Francis High School in Mountain View, California, he tried out for the baseball team at Santa Clara University as a walk on and, at 5’8”, 135 pounds, failed to make the team. He spent the next two years as equipment manager for the team and worked at his baseball skills whenever he could.
After his Sophomore year at Santa Clara, he transferred to the College of San Mateo, a California Junior College, and made the baseball team. In his one year at San Mateo, he was named a Junior College All American and was given a baseball scholarship to return to Santa Clara for his Senior Year. At Santa Clara that year, he hit .395 and was named to the first team All West Coast Conference team.
After graduating Santa Clara, he was undrafted by Major League Baseball and played independent league ball for the Chico Outlaws of the Independent Golden Baseball League. In January of 2008, the Red Sox purchased rights to him from the Chicos for a reported one dollar and sent him to Lancaster in Class A where he hit .341. In 2009 and 2010, he progressed rapidly through the Sox Minor League system from Salem, where he hit .339 before being promoted to AA Portland where he hit .364 and was sent to AAA Pawtucket and split 2010 between there and the Red Sox.
He made his debut with the Sox against the Phillies on June 12, 2010. In his first at bat for the Sox, against Joe Blanton, he hit the first pitch for a grand slam home run, becoming only the second player in baseball history to do so on the first major league pitch he saw. He played 60 games with the Sox that year, hitting .242, but never hit another homer all season.
In 2011, he spent the whole year at Pawtucket, playing 121 games and hitting just .268 with 10 homers and 48 RBI’s. He was placed on waivers by the Sox but no one claimed him and he was returned to Pawtucket.
In 2012, after not being invited to Spring Training, he spent most of the year with the Sox after he was called up to fill in when both Crawford and Ellsbury were out and played in 88 games, hitting only .243 with 6 homers and 33 RBI’s.
At the start of the 2013 season, with the additions to the team of outfielders Victorino, Johnny Gomes and Mike Carp and the sensational performance of Jackie Bradley, Jr., in spring training, and Ellsbury coming back, it looked like Nava was headed back to Pawtucket as odd man out in the outfield.
Bradley, Jr., did not play up to the Sox expectations and ended up back at Pawtucket. Both Ellsbury and Victorino were unavailable for short periods and Nava filled in wherever needed. He consistently hit at around .300, and ended the season with a .303 average with 12 homers and 66 RBI’s in 134 games. He played in both left and right field and filled in at first base for 19 games and was an important part of the drive to the World Series title.
Last year, after hitting just .161 in April and spending 24 games at Pawtucket, he came back and ended the season with a very respectable .270 batting average in 113 games again playing both corner outfield positions and filling in at first 11 games.
Obviously, there are players who find their niche when given a chance to play regularly in the big leagues after less than impressive starts and Nava appears to be one of them. Mark O’Brien, who was Nava’s coach at Santa Clara and who has coached 32 players who made it to the Major Leagues said that Nava is ‘…the best baseball player I’ve ever coached in my life.’
At an initial cost of just $1. and a current salary of $1.85. million, this switch hitting, hard working 31, soon to be 32 year old, who is now 5’11’ and 200 pounds, has been a real bargain and asset to this team. He may not be an all star but certainly has earned the money that the Sox have paid him and has the tools to be a real plus for this year’s version of the Red Sox.
Whether he makes the team in spring training or not, Daniel Nava has proven he has the ability to play regularly in the major leagues and, if he is available for trade, I am sure that there are teams that will be happy to have him on their roster and would be willing to give up some talent to get him.