When Josh Hamilton suffered an injury a month ago, the Los Angeles Angels were in search of a left fielder. They immediately turned to J.B. Shuck, who made appearances in the outfielder last season when former Angel Peter Bourjos was out with an injured wrist. His poor offensive numbers gave Collin Cowgill, Raul Ibanez and Grant Green some time at the position. However, none of them could perform up do the high standards set by Hamilton at the start of the season.
On Friday, Efren Navarro of the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees, boarded a plane at 6 in the morning. Upon arriving in Toronto, he was informed that he would be starting in left field that same day.
Navarro played primarily first base with the Bees, although he has also received time in the outfield during his minor league career. He was batting .315 with eight doubles before he was called up, but even these numbers could not lead experts to predict his strong start.
In the top of the second inning, in his first major league at bat of the season, Navarro lined a double into center field with two outs. In the following at bat, Cowgill hit a ground ball to center field to drive in Navarro. The Angels tied the Blue Jays, 1-1.
Navarro came to the plate in the top of the fourth and hit another double, this time a sharp line drive to Toronto left fielder Melky Cabrera. Two consecutive pop outs left Navarro stranded at second, but his efforts were not left unnoticed.
From the defensive standpoint, Navarro posted a highlight moment in the bottom of the fourth. Toronto center fielder Colby Rasmus lifted a pitch into left-center, between Navarro and Mike Trout. Navarro ran to the gap and made a leaping catch to rob Rasmus of a hit. Garrett Richards captured a one-two-three inning, the first of the game for either team.
Despite this strong first showing, Navarro was left out of Saturday’s lineup against the Blue Jays. Grant Green will be playing left field in his stead, an interesting decision in light of Green’s defensive miscues in his last few appearances. It would be difficult to prove that Navarro would continue his hot hitting over an extended period of time, but it seems as though the Angels’ outfield lacks some much-needed consistency.
A key to a strong outfield is communication. When a ball is hit into a gap, the outfielders need to be able to decide who will track it. This type of communication becomes easier over time and should ideally be established during spring training. With two of the three starting outfielders injured, it is important for the Angels to establish a new main group, rather than switching out parts every game. This will also allow the chosen outfielders to establish some rhythm on offense.
Navarro’s hot start could be read as a sign that he is qualified to be the primary left fielder. If the coaching staff thinks otherwise, they must establish some consistency in the outfield soon.