The road set before Efren Navarro during his baseball career has never been smooth. He has had to overcome countless obstacles to get where he is today. And to think, it was one gruesome injury that may have actually led him to the doorstep of the major leagues.
"During one scrimmage game, it was the first inning, and I just cracked my elbow," Navarro recalled of the injury at UNLV that effectively ended his pitching career. Up until that point, Navarro was better known for his prowess on the mound instead of with the bat, having been named the Mountain West Conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year. "Going into my junior year, I remember my pitching coach telling me, 'Hey, there are teams interested. I have a good feeling that you have a good shot at being drafted as a pitcher."
Navarro had already been splitting his time between pitching and first base, but the injury forced him to give up pitching and focus on first base full time. What followed has been a career full of similar stories, as Navarro has made a habit out of overcoming adversity. Very few players that are drafted ever reach the majors, and for those that are picked in the 50th round, the odds are very much stacked against them.
"I remember when I got drafted, I spoke to my parents, and we had a really good, long conversation about what would happen if I went back to school," Navarro said of being the 1,450th pick in the 2007 Draft. "You never know when that opportunity will come back again. My parents were like, 'Take a shot. This is a good opportunity for you to start out your professional career.' Sure enough, I took that shot."
Navarro is now in his seventh season in the Angels organization, already having delivered more than the Angels ever could have expected from the fourth-to-last pick in the draft. Navarro is enjoying his finest statistical season of his career this year, ranking second in the PCL in both batting average and on-base percentage. It is all due to the effort and the work he put into his craft in his first few years in the minors.
"Every level I learned, I struggled. I think that's what really built my character, and made me the person I am now, and the baseball player I am now," said Navarro. Of course, true to what has been the story of his career, a new obstacle presented itself once Navarro had established himself as a legitimate big leaguer. And it presented itself in the form of a future Hall of Famer.
Despite being known as the finest defensive first baseman in the minors, Navarro has only seen action in eight games with the Angels, owning mostly to the fact that he plays the same position as Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo. "Being behind a future Hall of Famer, that's a tough situation that I'm in. As far as me and what I can do, it is stay in control of my game and just play it day-by-day," said Navarro. "I went into spring training trying to pick Pujols' brain. Hopefully one day I'll be in the big leagues and be able to say that I won a Gold Glove as well."
Having played in the big leagues, Navarro has already exceeded the wildest expectations that anyone could have had for him when he was drafted. "Being a 50th rounder, the odds are against you," said Navarro. "All that work you have to put in, day in and day out, it was well worth it."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.