Daniel Nava was the unlikeliest major leaguer in any starting lineup today. And it’s safe to say a lot of Red Sox fans were disappointed to see him starting over Jackie Bradley Jr. in left field in the Fenway Park season opener.
Nava, though, rewarded manager John Farrell’s show of faith with a homer over the Green Monster that scored all of Boston’s runs in a 3-1 victory over Baltimore. It was his second homer on the young season.
To say that Nava took a rare path to the majors would be underselling it. The kid weighed 70 pounds as a freshman in high school. He failed to make the Santa Clara University baseball team as a walk-on, settling for a gig as an equipment manager until he could no longer afford tuition and left for junior college. After a successful year of baseball at the College of San Mateo, he returned to Santa Clara, this time on a full scholarship, as a senior and hit .395.
Of course, Nava still went undrafted. He tried out for the independent Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League in 2006 and failed to make the team. Trying again in 2007, he made the team, hit .371 with 12 homers in 256 at-bats and got himself signed by the Red Sox.
After a couple of years in the minors, Nava was called up by the Red Sox and became the second major leaguer ever to hit a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw. And then he went almost two years without another major league homer. After he hit a modest .242/.351/.360 in 161 at-bats as a rookie in 2010, the Red Sox left him in the minors for all of 2011. Summoned back last year, he hit .243/.352/.390 with six homers in 267 at-bats. This year, he made the team out of spring training for the first time and has two homers and six RBI in four games.
Now, the 30-year-old Nava is the very definition of a fringe major leaguer. For all of his hard work, he may yet find himself back in Triple-A in a couple of months. Even so, it’s incredible that he’s come this far. From 70-pound weakling to college equipment manager to indy league tryout cut to Boston Red Sox outfielder qualifies as an unprecedented path.
For more on Nava’s background, see Brian MacPherson’s feature in the Providence Journal from 2010.
It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:
In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.
Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.
Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.
The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.
The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.
Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.