In 2005 and 2006, Efren Navarro was one of the top pitchers for the UNLV Rebels and in the entire Mountain West Conference while also spending time at first base. However, in the fall of 2006, that all changed when Navarro suffered a broken left elbow, leading him to solely play first base after further elbow inflammation kept him off of the mound. Navarro went on to hit .325 in 2007 as a junior and would go on to be drafted 1,450th overall in the 2007 MLB Draft. At the time, Navarro knew it was in his best interests to return to school but a conversation with his family changed his mind as Navarro signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a 50th rounder.
“It’s been a crazy career from making that decision my junior year and signing as a 50th rounder because when I was drafted, I told myself I was going back to school,” Navarro said. “Then I spoke to my parents and they asked ‘what if this is the only door you have, what if next year doesn’t happen?’ And I took the shot and made the most of it.”
Navarro would go on to breakout in 2008 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga after hitting .349 in 129 at-bats with 18 RBI while also winning the Angels defensive player of the year award in the organization. In 2011, Navarro received a chance to play in Triple-A with Salt Lake City as he tore up the Pacific Coast League. In 492 at-bats, the Bees first baseman went on to hit .317 with 12 home runs and 73 RBI, leading to his MLB debut on September 2, 2011.
Unfortunately for Navarro, his big-league stints have been sporadic and haven’t come with much productivity. Navarro went on to go to two-for-ten with a double in his debut season before spending all of 2012 back in St. Lake City. In 2013, Navarro received four more at-bats with the Angels and also recorded his first career RBI. It was not until 2014 when Navarro finally broke into the MLB on a long-term basis. The Lynwood, California native recorded 159 at-bats with a home run and 14 RBI while hitting .245. One year later in the 2015 campaign, Navarro hit .253 with the Angels in just 83 at-bats and has not seen the big leagues since.
That could all change this season for Navarro. A free agent offseason signing for Al Avila and the Detroit Tigers, Navarro is off to another blistering start for the Toledo Mud Hens. Navarro is now hitting .287 with four home runs and 28 RBI and is second on the team in at-bats in the Glass City, making him a valuable Triple-A option for the Tigers organization.
“I signed with the Tigers because the offer was right and I knew the situation. Obviously, I don’t want guys getting hurt up there (in Detroit), but I feel like I have a very good shot here as an insurance policy if something is to happen.”
After a recent birthday in the month of May, Navarro is now 31 years old and is looking to get another chance to make a name for himself in the MLB. If this hot start continues throughout the season, there’s a chance that goal could be fulfilled.
“He just has to continue to do what he’s doing,” Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas told us, “He can’t worry about what’s not in his control and he knows that. He’s been around awhile and he knows the situation, he’s a pro and knows the game. It’s out of his control and we can only suggest and they’ll make the decisions.”
Even at age 31, and in his tenth season now, this is one of the best starts of Navarro’s career which continues to boost confidence in the Mud Hens infielder.
“I’ll say this is a good start for me,” Navarro stated, “It just goes back to my work ethic throughout my career. I give a lot of credit to the staff here in Toledo for their scouting reports, I think that’s been a big plus for me.
While scouting reports will make a difference, the approach at the plate is what plays even a bigger factor. Navarro is looked up to among several younger teammates due to his approach at the dish, which makes him a tough out for opposing pitchers.
“I’ve been trying to stay up the middle. It’s funny here because we talk more about approach than anything else, not so much mechanics and it’s been helping me and the guys out. I feel like it’s just a matter of time before it all turns around for all of us.”
Despite playing baseball in several different cities throughout his long minor league career, Navarro has found a love for the city of Toledo and the environment around the ballpark.
“The other day on an off-day, I told myself I’m going to be in Toledo so I tried Frickers and it was pretty good. Then at the stadium they have the streets closed and I really like it. I’ve never played at Cubs Stadium (Wrigley Field) but it has that feel with the people up top on the buildings so it’s like a major league atmosphere here,” Navarro stated on Fifth-Third Field and Toledo.
Everyone has their heroes or role models, especially professional athletes. According to Navarro, when he was growing up, his role models were former Chicago Cub Mark Grace and San Francisco Giants great, J.T. Snow. There aren’t many 50th round MLB Draft picks with a long legacy in baseball, but Efren Navarro is not like many people. From wanting to return to school to “making the most of an opportunity,” the current Toledo veteran continues to surprise those around minor league baseball as he continues to climb back into the majors.