World Series Game 2: Phils @ RaysBy
The Braves offered more, but after spending time in the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, that’s all the money it took to get Dioner Favian Navarro into the pinstriped pipeline way back in 2000. The switch hitting catcher wowed onlookers first in the Gulf Coast League, then South Atlantic League, then the Florida State League, and before you knew it, he was making his Major League Debut for the Bombers on September 7th, 2004 against (who else?) the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Named the Yanks’ top prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2004 season, Navarro was coming off a season in which he hit a ridiculous .321-.375-.469 while catching 110 games as a 19-yr old between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Dubbed “Pudgito” because his stocky build resembles Ivan Rodriguez, the Venezuelan born backstop was poised to assume backup catcher duties behind incumbent Jorge Posada in 2005 after hitting .429 during his September call-up. Navarro was Posada’s successor, and the changing of the guard was ready to begin.
Then George Steinbrenner stepped in.
Steinbrenner’s affection for Randy Johnson had been well-known, and on January 11th, 2005, a deal was completed to bring The Big Unit to the Bronx. Heading to the desert was Navarro (amongst others), his Yankees’ career over after 356 minor league games and seven big league plate appearances. Navarro was traded again less than 24 hours later, this time to the Dodgers as part of a package for Shawn Green. Eighteen months later he was traded again, this time to baseball purgatory for Toby Hall & Mark Hendrickson.
Navarro struggled in his first full season as a Major League catcher last year, hitting just .227-.286-.356 in 119 games. The highlight of his season came at Yankee Stadium (of course) on July 20th, when he hit a monster grand slam through the rain drops into the right field upper deck off Edwar Ramirez. Navarro was hitting a Major League low .179 coming into the game, but the Rays kept running him out because they believed he was their catcher of the future and needed the playing time to develop.
Blossoming as a 24-yr old this year, Navarro earned his first All-Star berth and was second amongst American League catchers with a .295 batting average & .349 on-base percentage. He delivered a crucial walk-off single against the Red Sox on Sept. 16th, breaking a tie atop the AL East. The Rays never looked back, taking the division by two games over the BoSox. One month later, Pudgito is starting in the World Series.
Following prospects is a fun hobby. There’s nothing like imagining what a player can become, hoping they can figure out how to hit a breaking a ball or command their fastball, and envisioning them carrying your team to the World Championship. No one knows what would have become of Navarro had the Yanks not traded him. Maybe his development would have stalled behind Posada, maybe he would have gotten a piece of advice that turned him a player rivaling Matt Wieters. But watching Navarro for the Rays this postseason has been a personal victory; a return on all the time and faith I put into following his progess, hoping he’d one day lead the Yanks to the promised land. For now though, I’ll settle for watching Navarro do his thing for the Rays.
There’s simply nothing better than watching a prospect make it.
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Pat Burrell, LF
6. Shane Victorino, CF
7. Greg Dobbs, DH
8. Pedro Feliz, 3B
9. Carlos Ruiz, C
- Brett Myers, P (10-13, 4.55)
1. Akinori Iwamura, 2B
2. BJ Upton, CF
3. Carlos Pena, 1B
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. Carl Crawford, LF
6. Cliff Floyd, DH
7. Pudgito, C
8. Rocco Baldelli, RF
9. Jason Bartlett, SS
- Jamie Shields, P (14-8, 3.56)