Injuries Mounting, Boof Bonser to the Rotation? Nava Who?

Boston Red Sox Daniel Nava (R) is congratulated by teammates Jason Varitek, Adrian Beltre (29) and Darnell McDonald (54) in front of Philadelphia Phillies catcher Brian Schneider after hitting a grand slam during the second inning of their Interleague MLB baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Who is Daniel Nava? The Sox have quite the interesting player on their hands. With injuries to outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeremy Hermida, and Mike Cameron forcing the BoSox to dig deep into the minors once again, the Sox may have caught lightning in a bottle for the second time this season. Darnell McDonald admirably filling in for Hermida and Cameron, the Sox promoted Daniel Nava to the bigs on Saturday to take over Josh Reddick's fourth outfielder spot. Like McDonald, Nava wasted no time endearing himself to fans -- connecting for a grand slam on the first pitch of his MLB career Saturday, leading the Sox to a 10-2 win over Philadelphia. Nava, 27, has had quite the journey to the Majors. Making his professional debut for the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League in 2007, Nava impressed the scouts with a bit of speed (18 SBs in 20 attempts), pop (12 home runs in 314 plate appearances), and plate discipline (48 BB : 42 Ks) while with Chico. Signed by the Sox in 2008 at the age of 25, Nava kept rolling with hi-A Lancaster. Slugging 10 homers in 379 plate appearances to go along with a very impressive .341/.424/.523 line, the outfielder’s plate discipline (43 BB : 70 K) carried over to affliated ball as well.
Boston Red Sox Daniel Nava (R) is congratulated by teammates Jason Varitek, Adrian Beltre (29) and Darnell McDonald (54) in front of Philadelphia Phillies catcher Brian Schneider after hitting a grand slam during the second inning of their Interleague MLB baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Injuries Mounting

With mounting injuries again threatening to send the Red Sox into an extended nosedive, the team will again attempt to dance between the raindrops as it awaits the return of its fallen comrades.

-Jeremy Hermida succumbing to rib fractures in much the same fashion as fellow outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Hermida was placed on the DL on June 11. Taking his spot on the roster was reliever Scott Atchison while Daniel Nava replaced Josh Reddick in the outfield the next day, hitting a famous grand slam while starting in Hermida’s place in left.

-News about Jacoby Ellsbury’s ribs continues to worsen, as the outfielder now appears to be out until at least the All-Star break with a newly detected fracture in his left posterior rib.

-Daisuke Matsuzaka was a late scratch from his June 12 start due to forearm soreness, replaced 10 minutes prior to the game by Scott Atchison. Daisuke’s roster spot was assumed by Dustin Richardson, called up to buttress the bullpen.

-On top of all this, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Cameron are day-to-day with back spasms and an ab injury, respectively. Though Cameron’s ailments are worrisome in their own right, Youk’s injury deserves particular mention, as back spasms are particularly unpredictable, disappearing and cropping up without warning. Back injuries have been known to subvert countless numbers of seasons and there’s never any telling when they’ll strike next.

Needless to say, the medical staff has been very busy the past few days.

The injuries to Hermida and Ellsbury continue to weaken an already devastated outfield. The Sox already down to the organization’s sixth outfielder in Darnell McDonald, the demotion of Josh Reddick means that Nava will likely see regular at-bats in left – the eighth outfielder on the organizational depth chart.

Though it remains to be seen what Nava’s bat is capable of, it is difficult to see this outfield tandem as a winning combination for a contending team.

Matsuzaka’s injury presents a similar scenario for the rotation.

With Daisuke not eligible to return until June 23, the team will have to make do until then with a further depleted rotation. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield manning the first four slots, the fifth position is a bit unclear at this point — though it seems as if the recently promoted Boof Bonser may get a shot at starting, if only for the short term.

Boof Bonser

Having missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury and having spent 58 games of 2010 on the DL, Bonser may rival Daniel Nava as the biggest unknown and desperation appointment on the Sox’ roster.

At this juncture, it’s difficult to get a read on what Bonser is capable of. On one hand, he seems to have regained his arm strength following the shoulder injury. Having thrown comfortably in the 91-93 range for most of his career, Bonser was sitting at 93 in his two innings since joining the big club. His repertoire has not changed either, as he still features a slider and curve, though he has not attempted a changeup as of yet. Still, the pitch selections and velocity speaks well to the current condition of his arm.

On the other hand, however, Bonser has been anything but effective thus far in 2010. Though the results of his 2.0 innings in the bigs mean little at this point, his AAA numbers have been anything but encouraging.

Through 32.2 innings at Pawtucket, Bonser had allowed 14 walks against 25 strikeouts. While these numbers would be good enough to survive had they been registered at the Major League level, they don’t speak well to his prospects for transitioning to the Majors. With a likely rise in walk rate and drop in strikeout rate, it’s foreseeable that Bonser’s line could get rather ugly if he doesn’t come around soon.

In addition, Bonser was never a particularly effective pitcher in the Majors before the injury.

Though his career 7.25 K/9 and 2.90 BB/9 are certainly very good peripherals, he was victimized by a career .328 BABIP — a major contributing factor in his 5.19 ERA. While in many cases one would expect his ERA to level out somewhere in the mid 4.00s, three seasons worth of poor BABIPs is enough data to infer that he will give up an above-average rate of hits. Fangraphs.com’s ZIPS projections concurs, expecting a .335 BABIP through the remainder of the season.

If Bonser were able to perform at his pre-injury level for the duration of 2010, it would be of great benefit to the team — giving the Sox a valuable swingman out of the bullpen and spot starter for the short term.

However, it is unclear how this post-injury Boof Bonser will perform — and he could just as soon be below replacement-level as he could a quality stop gap. However, given the remaining alternatives (Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Fabio Castro), Bonser is worth a shot.

In an ideal world, Bonser will post a high-4.00s ERA while going deep enough into ballgames to give the team a chance to win on a nightly basis. However, this would require him returning to his pre-injury form, which may be a tall order given the severity of his injuries and his long layoff from Major League competition. Given Bonser’s set of circumstances, this may be the best-case scenario for the Red Sox — with the team planning ahead for what could be much worse.

For the long term, one has to wonder how Daisuke’s continuing health woes and Beckett’s slow recovery will affect the club’s trade deadline priorities. In fact, members of the baseball media have begun pairing the Sox with the Astros and Mariners as potential trade partners for Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee. Both one year rentals, the club may be better off targeting a more affordable hurler — the team’s shortcomings do not necessarily require an additional ace, rather a consistent, reliable, and durable #4 or #5 starter.

The Sox’ rotation is teetering on the breaking point at the moment, as an injury to any of the four remaining starters could push the club over the cliff. Should any of Wakefield, Lester, Buchholz, or Lackey go down for an extended period (and at least one will likely require a DL stint before the end of the season), the Sox may be forced to call upon any of their struggling or inexperienced AAA options.

Would a rotation of Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Bonser, and Bowden strike any fear into the hearts of New York or Tampa?

Perhaps the Sox should get working on Plans C and D right away.

Who is Daniel Nava?

The Sox have quite the interesting player on their hands.

With injuries to outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeremy Hermida, and Mike Cameron forcing the BoSox to dig deep into the minors once again, the Sox may have caught lightning in a bottle for the second time this season.

Darnell McDonald admirably filling in for Hermida and Cameron, the Sox promoted Daniel Nava to the bigs on Saturday to take over Josh Reddick’s fourth outfielder spot.

Like McDonald, Nava wasted no time endearing himself to fans — connecting for a grand slam on the first pitch of his MLB career Saturday, leading the Sox to a 10-2 win over Philadelphia.

Nava, 27, has had quite the journey to the Majors. Making his professional debut for the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League in 2007, Nava impressed the scouts with a bit of speed (18 SBs in 20 attempts), pop (12 home runs in 314 plate appearances), and plate discipline (48 BB : 42 Ks) while with Chico. Signed by the Sox in 2008 at the age of 25, Nava kept rolling with hi-A Lancaster. Slugging 10 homers in 379 plate appearances to go along with a very impressive .341/.424/.523 line, the outfielder’s plate discipline (43 BB : 70 K) carried over to affliated ball as well.

2009 was a bit of a mixed bag for Nava. Though his strike zone judgment showed improvement (43BB:33K) and he continued to mash (.352/.458/.533) with hi-A Salem and AA Portland, his power marks were down significantly (5 HRs in 274 plate appearances). His overall line supported by some staggeringly high BABIPs (.397), he would have to up his power and at least maintain a sub 20-percent strikeout rate to continue succeeding in affiliated ball.

The jump to AAA Pawtucket in 2010 would be a considerable test for Nava — and he handled it very well.

Still, not all systems were go. Though his power returned (8 homers in 220 plate appearances), his batting average (.294) and strike zone control (15 BB : 43 K) took measureable hits — leading some to question whether his low minor walk rates and BABIP would be able to sustain his bat in AAA and the big leagues.

Still, the injuries in the Sox’ outfield and his hot bat were good enough for a call-up, even if his MLB appearance doesn’t seem to be anything more than cameo role.

With a glove that has played mostly in the corner outfield slots, Nava doesn’t seem to have a long-term home with the team. The club already possessing a fourth outfielder that can man the corners in Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald seems to have sewn up any fifth-outfield openings with his ability to play center.

Further, it’s unclear at this point how Nava’s bat will respond to big-league pitching.

On the plus side, he does seem to have good hitting skills, with a bit of pop and the ability to consistently drive balls — leading to high batting averages sustained by high BABIPs. Though it is unlikely he’ll contend for batting titles the way he did in the low minors, he’s shown the ability to hit balls hard, which will help him exceed his peripherals.

However, his ability to control the strike zone took a big hit as he jumped from AA to AAA, which is concerning for his prospects of recapturing above average walk rates in the Majors. Without plus power, it will require both high BABIPs and a proclivity for drawing walks for Nava’s bat to stick in a corner outfield slot. Lacking the typical profile for a Major League corner outfielder — plus power with the ability to draw walks — it will certainly hurt his chances at sticking with the team even if he ultimately proves his game is up to snuff.

For Nava, it should be a sweet two weeks before he is returned to Pawtucket, at which point the club should have more time to evaluate his capabilities.

Regardless, Nava is really a very intriguing player, as his ability to hit for modest power with the potential for good on-base skills and BABIPs could win him a job with many teams.

Nava’s true abilities are very much a mystery at this point, given his relative inconsistency in the minors. In his short tenure in the organization, he has shown the ability to hit for good power at times while struggling to clear fences at others; having a good batting eye in AA and below while also hacking a bit in AAA.

Either way, he does have the chance to carve out a place for himself in Boston should he continue to hit well between the bigs and AAA. Keep a close eye on him. He’s been a bit inconsistent in the past, meaning he could continue hitting just as easily as he could flare out.

Still, this is the perfect situation for an underdog outfielder to be in: injuries giving him time to show off his talents with little pressure of having a long term spot with the club.

The team will need him to plug the outfield’s gaping hole for the next few weeks, and it’s certainly plausible that he could be exactly what the lineup needs.

Categories: Boof Bonser Boston Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka Daniel Nava Jacoby Ellsbury Jeremy Hermida

3 Responses to “Injuries Mounting, Boof Bonser to the Rotation? Nava Who?” Subscribe

  1. kennythelid June 15, 2010 at 11:55 AM #

    This kid has had to fight for everything he's ever achieved in baseball, he's been told he's too small for most of his life. I don't know where you get he's been inconsistent, ever since the Sox signed him out of independent ball this guy has overachieved at every level. He's got a chip on his shoulder and I think he's the guy that can give the Sox a consistent bat in left field, with a better than average glove.

  2. Mike_Silver June 16, 2010 at 1:49 PM #

    I'm sure he's a hard worker, but please, don't ever say that a Major League Baseball player has been told he's too small his whole life. It's a 100% certainty that he was far and away the best player at every level he's played up until the professional ranks. Once he got there, he had to fight – and he deserves all the credit in the world for that – but please don't tell me he knew what adversity was before then.

    As for inconsistency, it mainly has to do with his power output at varying stages of the minors. His was great in Chico during the '07 campaign, decent for Lancaster in '08, non-existent in '09, and very good this year so far. Had the power not fallen through the floor in '09, I'd agree with you and chalk it up to normal fluctuations, but 5 homers in 227 ABs in '09 versus 12 over 256 ABs in '07 is inconsistent.

  3. Jed Zeppelin June 18, 2010 at 1:44 AM #

    Being a switch hitter, if he can maintain some hitting skills at the major league level, I think he would be pretty valuable as a backup outfielder that can pinch hit. He can also run the bases ok and field ok. If Hermida doesn't start hitting better and Nava continues to hit, I would rather have Nava.