“It’s a ridiculous long shot,” (Mike) Hazen said. “It’s amazing that a guy with that kind of talent has been passed-over every step of the way including the amateur draft. But Allard Baird, Jared Porter, and our scouting staff did an outstanding job of finding him and he continues to produce at every level. And if he continues to do it, he’s going to get an opportunity to play in the big leagues.”
One of the most intriguing storylines of the 2013 season so far has been the ‘surprising’ emergence of Daniel Nava. Having barely made the team out of Spring Training, Nava’s turning a lot of heads, not only with his bat, but with his stellar defense as well.
His story is well documented, not just here – but in plenty of other places, too. In fact, it’s almost too well documented. I say that because the ‘underdog who never gave up’ narrative – while inspiring – seems to be perpetuating the original problem with Nava – that everyone seems more concerned with everything going on around him than his actual talent and track record on the field.
In fact, no one should be ‘surprised’ about his recent success at all. They should have expected it. Daniel Nava is a really good baseball player who’s been egregiously overlooked for too long in a mainstream sense because writers are more interested in his story than in his actual ability.
And make no mistake about it, he has A LOT of ability.
Nava hasn’t just been a good hitter in the minors, he’s been a beast. Look at them for yourself:
• He obliterated Single-A ball, hitting .340/429/.509 in 509 plate appearances.
• He topped that production at the AA level, hitting .364/.479/.568.
• In Triple-A, his average took a bit of a hit, but by his last stint in Pawtucket in 2012, he managed to hit .313/.425/.525 – or, as we’re beginning to learn – went back to being regular Daniel Nava.
A lot of Nava naysayers like to point to his high BABIP, but that’s really more of a function of his talent, not luck. After all – good hitters tend to hit more, thus they have higher BABIP’s. But even aside from that, all his peripherals suggest that his bat and plate approach are for real. Not only has he maintained a consistent BB% and K% throughout his MiLB career, but he posted a .176 ISO as well.
So here were are in 2013, with Nava being healthy and having a year to adjust; and just like the story’s gone throughout his professional career, he’s sitting on a .289/.385/.500 line with 4 HR’s and 16 RBI’s in 91 PA’s so far this season. If he keeps this pace up, he’ll likely end up with around 25 HR’s and 85 RBI’s.
Considering his MiLB numbers, his development and what we’re seeing this year, I think we just need to admit it: Daniel Nava is more than just a nice bench bat with a feel-good story. He’s a legitimate every day Major League Baseball player.
Is he a hot bat right now? Sure. Will his production take a step back? Probably. But even if it does – and dramatically at that – I wouldn’t be able to think of a single MLB GM who wouldn’t be perfectly fine with a player who could hit .250/.360/.460 and play multiple OF positions.
In fact, what’s almost more surprising to me, at least – is how no one recognized Nava’s talent sooner. And by ‘no one,’ I’m not just talking about the media, fans and the Red Sox. Don’t forget, two years ago he was waived. Even with his track record not one, single, solitary team thought he was worth a flier.
It makes you wonder how things like that even happen.
Could it just be that Nava’s been overlooked because he just wasn’t a top prospect? Could it be because of his advanced age? Could it just have been people focusing in on what he couldn’t do at certain levels as opposed to what he could do?
Interestingly enough, about two months ago, John Kochurov wrote an absolute must-read piece for Hardball Times called Trapped in the Minors, that tackled that very same issue. The article talked about how teams undervalue players like Nava who hit well in the Minors, but for whatever reason, never really get the chance to prove themselves once they’re big league ready.
With regards to all this, Kochurov also pontificates that the next cutting-edge thing might not be some new metric or technologically-driven advancement, but rather, our ability to get out of our own way:
“Maybe it’s the same old inefficiency that’s been around as long as baseball,” he said. “(It’s) that good players sometimes get buried for no particularly good reason, and the team that can identify those players will have a massive edge over its competition.”
So in asking our question, we’re just left with more of them. But what we do know, is that Nava’s a pretty good player who should probably be in a lineup every day or darn close to it. His numbers say he should. His track record says he should. His development says he’s ready.
Still, there’s an untapped treasure-trove of talent out there for teams to plunder. If Daniel Nava doesn’t prove what good can come from it, I don’t know what does.