25. Efren Navarro, 28, AAA. 2.3 WAR. .326/.418/.462 with 4 HR and 2 SB
Navarro did his damage in only half a season with the Bees—the WAR numbers here include minor league value only—and reflect his improbable maturation into one of the better hitters on the farm. I’ve written these words before, but it’s a pleasure to write them again: this is a guy who was drafted in the 50th round back in 2007, the fourth to last guy taken in the whole draft, and until 2011 made his living on the margins of minor league teams solely on the merits of an outstanding first-base glove (and it is truly, truly outstanding). Hardly the background of your typical big leaguer.
So who is he at the plate? On the one hand, he did nothing but rap doubles in eighty-one plate appearances through the end of July. Fangraphs credits his 25.8% line drive rate as tops on the major league club. He saw more than four pitches a plate appearance. Only Albert Pujols, Erick Aybar, and J.B. Shuck struck out a lower rate than he did in the majors.
On the other hand, so what? MLB pitchers knocked the bat out of his hand throughout the late summer, limiting him to a .220/.270/.297 slash in August and September. He struggled especially against good change-ups, limiting his platoon value. He’s posted some of the Pacific Coast League’s highest BABIP’s these past couple of years, but not even the consistently stellar line drive rate could bump him over the .300 mark with the Angels. Bad luck? Perhaps. Or maybe his slap-it-to-the-opposite field thing won’t work against MLB pitching and defensive positioning.
I will say this though: he’s earned the opportunity to prove that last summer’s BABIP collapse was just a fluke, and I expect see him receive consistent playing time as the Angels’ use up his last option year in 2015. Hamilton's shoulder injury keeps the door open this spring, and remember that Navarro, for all of his shortcomings, outperformed the gaggle of has-been lefty bats that Dipoto assembled last year for just this sort of circumstance. After that? The safe money is on him becoming a much sought-after minor league free agent who maintains a foothold in the game for years. I’m a fan.