Efren Navarro joins crowd at first base for Angels
It's unlikely any organization is deeper at first base than the Angels. Kendry Morales, an MVP candidate in his first full season, will be the clean-up hitter at the major league level once his broken ankle heals. Mark Trumbo, who tied for the minor-league lead with 36 home runs at Salt Lake last summer, is fighting for a spot on the big-league roster. And just behind him is Gabe Jacobo, who batted .296 with 22 homers and 107 RBIs at Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
Which means Efren Navarro (pictured at left) sometimes gets overlooked -- as he was in the 2007 draft when he was drafted in the 50th and final round. But in his first full minor league season he was a Midwest League All-Star and, after doubling in the Angels' only run in Saturday's loss to Milwaukee, Navarro is 4 for 7 in five Cactus League games.
And that's forced the team to take notice.
"Although he doesn’t have as much power as Trumbo or Jacobo. he has the ability to be a very effective hitter, much as Mark Grace was or hitters along those lines," said Manager Mike Scoiscia, referring to the three-time All-Star who hit .303 in 16 big-league seasons with the Cubs and Diamondbacks. "He has to find that talent."
Scioscia said Navarro was challenged to do just that last summer after struggling to a .230 batting average in the first half at double-A Arkansas. Abe Flores, the Angels' director of player personnel, and Todd Takayoshi, the team's minor league hitting instructor, met with Navarro and they "put it to him and said: Look, you have more ability," Scioscia said.
Navarro responded by hitting .310 after the break, earning an invitation to spring training as a nonroster player. His fielding ability, however, has never been in question.
"This guy can easily be Gold Glove-caliber," Scioscia said. "This is as good a defender as you’re going to see at first base."
Other notes from camp:
--Minor league pitcher Loek Van Mil, the tallest man in professional baseball at 7-foot-1, has been a favorite of visiting journalists. Imagine what might happen if he ever throws a pitch in a game.
Van Mil is scheduled to face hitters for the first time this spring when he throws batting practice Monday. And if there are no setbacks he said he could be ready to appear in a spring training game before the weekend.
--New outfielder Vernon Wells put on an impressive display in batting practice Sunday, crushing several balls that carried over a grass berm and beyond a strand of trees behind the left-center-field wall. Many of those drives carried more than 400 feet.
Torii Hunter also hammered a couple of balls off third base coach Dino Ebel, the batting practice pitcher, but he couldn't match Wells, whose power was a subject of debate when the Angels acquired him in a trade with the Blue Jays seven weeks ago. Wells had 23 or more homers in each of his first five big-league seasons, only to have injuries limit his production over the next three years. But he rebounded with an All-Star campaign in 2010, belting 31 homers.
-- Kevin Baxter in Tempe, Ariz.
Photo credit: Associated Press