Red Sox prospect Ryan Fitzgerald brings memories of Daniel Nava
The Boston Red Sox minor league system has a player who has undoubtedly generated interest from contributors on this site. A quick introduction to Ryan Fitzgerald, a soon-to-be 28-year-old left-hand hitting infielder.
Fitzgerald hit just .230 in his last season at Creighton in the Big East Conference. Certainly not numbers to inspire even a throwaway draft choice, so Fitzgerald went unsigned. Fitzgerald decided to continue playing and signed with the Gary South Shore Rail Cats – an independent league team.
Fitzgerald “improved” on his Creighton hitting with an unimpressive .239 but still was not done. At a Red Sox tryout camp Fitzgerald was offered a contract and entered the Red Sox system. Then Fitzgerald found power. A change in the hitting style incorporated a heavier bat and a concentration on launch angles.
Where attention surfaced was in spring training, where Fitzgerald garnered a world of positive attention, hitting .313 with four of his five hits going the distance. Fitzgerald is now at Worcester and still pounding the ball with five home runs through 15 games. Is this potentially Daniel Nava redux?
Nava had a similarly circuitous route to joining the Red Sox, being undrafted, starting in Indy baseball, and then signing with the Red Sox. Nava – a switch-hitting outfielder – toiled away, and with solid Pawtucket (AAA) credentials, Nava became a rookie call-up in 2010 at 27-years-old.
Daniel had a historic first at-bat in the majors slamming a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw. Despite hitting .286 over 29 games, Nava became a roster numbers victim when the team needed a roster spot. Another injury created an outfield need in a few weeks, and Nava was back and finished 2010, hitting .242.
Oh, those roster numbers! Nava was once again sequestered in Pawtucket for 2011. How? Designated for assignment, Daniel was soon baseball homeless as no other team was willing to sign him. Back to Pawtucket and more, grind it out for another shot at the brass ring.
In 2012 Nava was an outcast and not invited to major-league training camp and was again heading to Pawtucket. Sometimes misfortune of one player can be fortunate for another. Injuries at the MLB level created a need and Nava was back in Boston. This time Nava stuck like Gorilla Glue and finished off hitting .243.
In the post-season, Nava received a special accolade from the Red Sox with being the recipient of the Lou Gorman Award. The award is given to a minor league player “who has demonstrated dedication and perseverance in overcoming obstacles while working his way to the Major League team.”
Spring training of 2013 was a different story, and thankfully, he made the opening day roster and stayed put for the entire championship 2013 season. Nava hit .303, slammed 12 home runs, and tacked on 66 RBI. The outfielder also produced a .385 OBP but still, his career was tenuous with Boston as history would show.
In 2014 and 2015, Nava again took the I-95 express several times between Boston and Pawtucket. The run eventually ended at the end of July 2015 with another DFA. It was a no return to Boston as Tampa Bay signed Nava. He then joined the baseball carousel with service time with the Angels, Royals, and Philadelphia. A stint with the Pirates failed hindered by surgery. Then he went back to his Indy roots and then to the Mexican Pacific Winter League.
Nava was a fan favorite in Boston, and talent had little to do with it. Nava was a gritty gamer who never gave up. A Scott Atchison of position players. He was not high profile player and always seemed to be one game away from DFA for much of his career, but when he got his shot, Nava took full advantage and surprisingly produced.
Should Fitzgerald get his shot? The Red Sox are struggling and need something to light a fire on this team on offense. Fitzgerald is an infielder, and the Red Sox team seems set except at first base, where Bobby Dalbec has regressed. But Fitzgerald has played all over the place at Worcester, so I would suspect Fitz is just one injury away from “The Show.” Just like Nava.