Navarro's versatility a valuable commodity
Can handle both infield, outfield roles for the Pirates
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Clint Hurdle is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound bear of a Midwestern man. Yamaico Navarro is a lean, 5-foot-11 Caribbean cub.They are nothing alike. Yet, everything about Navarro reminds Hurdle of himself. Of the Hurdle, that is, who willed out a 10-year Major League playing career by having versatility, not numbers, define his value. "Versatility kept me in the big leagues for a number of years," said the Pirates manager. "The ability to play the corners of the infield, and the corners of the outfield -- and catch." That should already sound familiar to fans of today's Bucs -- well, with the exception of the catching part. Navarro, acquired by Pittsburgh from Kansas City in one of those less-heralded offseason moves, has been the chameleon of the Pirates' Spring Training camp. The 24-year-old Dominican Republic native has been a third baseman, a shortstop, a second baseman, a left fielder and a right fielder. On Wednesday, Navarro started in left field. Against the Rays Thursday, he was in the starting lineup at second base.
The Pirates have played 18 games, and Navarro has been in 17 of them. He is getting a thorough look -- not to see whether he'll make the team, which appears a lock by now, but to see how much he can handle and where he fits best."Playing so much has been good for me," Navarro said. "I want to play in the big leagues; I've been working hard for that and now I'm getting to play hard for it, too." "Not only does he have the skill set we can look to put in play now, but we think he can further develop over time," Hurdle said. "We're trying to find the best spot for him. We know he can go at several places, but might profile better at second. "We know he can play third, we've seen that. And he's actually managed pretty well in the outfield when put out there." Players such as Navarro once were burdened with the 'jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none' label. It used to be a liability, to be known as a player without a position. Versatility was a curse, not an asset. That was before five-man starting rotations and bullpen specialization put the squeeze on 25-man rosters. Now versatile players are among the most sought after and most valued. Guys like Wilson Betemit, Marco Scutaro, Mark DeRosa. And Yamaico Navarro. Navarro recognizes that. Originally a shortstop, he gradually picked up the other positions. "I like second base most," Navarro said. "I've played more outfield here than ever before. I'm happy with the way it's going." "Versatility is always a plus to have on the bench," Hurdle said. "To have a guy who can do more than give others a day off, someone you can move around if he's already in the game, use in the double-switch. There are more opportunities to utilize him in different spots. "He stretches out your lineup for late in-game strategies, setting up against left-handers or right-handers." Navarro can do all that? He already has. His deployment this spring has certainly not been out of character. In his brief Major League career, consisting of 42 games, Navarro has already started at third, short, second and left field. Wednesday's start against Boston had been against the club that originally signed him in 2005, when he was a 17-year-old from the Caribbean cradle of shortstops, the Dominican Republic's San Pedro de Macoris. He spent parts of the last two seasons with the Red Sox, and concluded 2011 with the Royals, following a Trade Deadline move in exchange for Mike Aviles. Five months later, Navarro was a Pirate. Being with his third organization in such a short span appears to have toughened Navarro's skin. He has kept pretty much to himself in the clubhouse, spending pregame time meditating under his headphones or watching video of the opposing pitcher or of his own swing. "Being traded [for a second time, to the Pirates] surprised me a bit," Navarro said. "But it got me to a younger team. I'm very happy here." The Bucs are likewise very happy to have him here ... there, everywhere.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.