Red Sox Catching up with old friends: Daniel Nava
By Drew Peabody
The former Boston Red Sox feel-good story is still fighting for a major league spot.
Daniel Nava has always been one of those gym rat type of guys that you just root for because of how hard they had to work to make it to the majors. The story is familiar to many Red Sox fans about how Nava took a job as an equipment manager for the Santa Clara University baseball team just to be close to the team in the chance he might get a shot to work in baseball as a career.
He grew three inches one offseason and made the Santa Clara team, hitting almost .400 but nobody was giving a 23 year old former equipment manager a chance. Someone gave up their spot in an independent league where he had an 1.100 OPS in 2007. Subsequently, he signed with the Red Sox in 2008. Then worked his way through the Red Sox system until he finally had his chance in 2010. He made baseball history on the first pitch he saw in the majors, smashing a grand slam off the Phillies’ Joe Blanton (only one of four players ever to do that in their first major league at-bat).
Though he had beaten the odds by making the majors, Nava struggled to stay at the major league level. He put up a .711 OPS in 2010 but in 2011, with the acquisition of Carl Crawford, Nava was squeezed out of a 40 man roster spot and any team could have claimed him off waivers, but none did. Nava remained with the Red Sox organization and managed to make it back to the majors in 2012, posting a .742 OPS in 317 plate appearances (PA). The Santa Clara product showed his versatility, learning first base in 2013 Spring Training to stay on the roster. He made eight starts there for the 2013 title winners, posting his finest major league season by far, with an .831 OPS and 12 homers in 517 plate appearances. Even in the World Series, though, Nava lost his spot to Jonny Gomes despite driving in two key runs during Game Three.
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Nava seemed to be in the majors to stay, posting solid numbers in 2014, a .706 OPS in 408 plate appearances. The former equipment manager hit a snag in 2015 in the form of a huge slump. He could not buy a hit, posting just a .442 OPS in 78 major league PAs. Nagging injuries and a trip to the minors didn’t help matters. Feel-good stories are great but it is the majors, and if you don’t produce and you aren’t making a ton of money, you are gone. The Red Sox put Nava on waivers in August. The Tampa Bay Rays picked him up, finishing out his season with a .665 OPS in 88 PAs for the Rays.
Nava began a new life as a major league journeyman. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the 2016 season where he once again split time between the majors and the minors. Nava slashed .320/.397/.417 in their minor league system but only managed to gather 136 plate appearances in the majors, struggling to a .611 OPS in that time. The Kansas City Royals saw something in Nava in August, acquiring him for their stretch run, but he only managed 12 plate appearances and one start for the defending World Champions.
Nava joined former Red Sox catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday in 2017, trying to make the Philadelphia Phillies out of Spring Training. Nava could once again have trouble securing a 40 man roster spot. The Phillies had to add 11 prospects to their 40 man roster last offseason so Nava will have to perform at a high level in Spring Training to return to the majors for 2017. As of the morning of March 19, Nava is 12 for 26 with three RBI so he has put himself in the best possible position to make the club.
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If Nava makes it back to Fenway again, fans certainly will never forget his play in 2013. His game-winning homer on April 20, 2013 (the day of the Big Papi speech) may not have mattered so much in the standings but with the raw emotion of the Marathon bombing still in everyone’s minds, it will remain one of the most memorable home runs in Red Sox regular season history. Even if he doesn’t make it back to the majors again, he will be remembered by Red Sox fans for years to come.