Navarro takes long road from UYA to MLB
Former 50th-round selection makes debut as September callup
When Darrell Miller thinks back to the kind of person Efren Navarro was while training at Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., he recalls "a grinder."
Frankly, there's no way to do what Navarro did and not be that.
Navarro was taken in the 50th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft by the Angels. Five seasons in the Minors, 565 games and a whole lot of grinding later, Navarro -- at 25 -- finally got his call up to the big leagues when the Angels plucked him out of Triple-A on the first day rosters expanded this month.
It was a tough, uncertain road for Navarro, but the Compton UYA now has its second product in the big leagues -- and many more are expected.
"That's something that I've always been taught since I was young -- just to never give up," said Navarro, the lefty-hitting first baseman who has only had one plate appearance in his first week with the playoff-contending Halos. "It's a big accomplishment for me and my family. That's something that's unheard of, I guess -- being a 50th rounder and pretty much nothing's given to you. You have to earn everything you get, and I'm happy with what I've done."
Navarro -- standing 6 feet and listed at 200 pounds -- batted .267 with six homers and 50 RBIs for Double-A Arkansas in 2010, and heading into this season, he wasn't considered among the Angels' top prospects.
But a .317 batting average, 12 homers and 73 RBIs for Triple-A Salt Lake led to a September callup.
"Navarro is a terrific defensive first baseman," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said recently. "Efren doesn't have tools that are going to light your eyes up, but he's a baseball player."
While at Angel Stadium this week, Navarro was joined by Mariners blossoming outfielder Trayvon Robinson, a lifelong friend who became the first UYA product to reach the big leagues when he was called up in early August.
"It's just awesome," Robinson said of being joined in the big leagues by his buddy. "All the time we put in just paid off."
The Compton UYA was still under construction by the time Robinson became the Dodgers' 10th-round selection in 2005, but once it opened in '06, Robinson trained there on a nearly everyday basis during his Minor League offseasons. At the same time, he offered guidance to the younger kids coming up.
"We're trying to get everybody back in baseball in the inner cities," said Robinson, who hit his second Major League homer on Wednesday and is batting .274 in his first 25 games. "It's been down a little bit, and you can't ask for a more perfect idea. The Urban Youth Academy is perfect for where it's at. We just have to get baseball back in the inner city."
Navarro began training at the Compton UYA as a senior in high school. Like Robinson, Navarro came up through the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program. Like Robinson, Navarro trained at the Compton UYA during his offseasons as a pro. And like Robinson, Navarro made sure to give his time there, too.
"Just coming from the Compton Academy, it's such a big accomplishment," Navarro said. "That's a place I call home. That's where I work out, that's where I hit, take ground balls and help the kids, and I'm happy to be a role model now for them; show them you can make it."
And many more will make it, indeed.
Robinson and Navarro are the first. But considering more than 100 Compton UYA products have been drafted, and budding prospects like Anthony Gose (Blue Jays), Aaron Hicks (Twins), Reggie Williams (Twins) and Jonathan Singleton (Astros) are in the pipeline, there should be plenty more to join them soon enough.
More UYA products in the Majors means more hope for those inner-city kids aspiring to do the same, which means more kids using the facility to stay off the streets and make a better life for themselves.
"It works," Miller said. "The formula works, and the kids know that there's hope. And that's the most important thing -- the kids now know there's hope. There's a place they can go, if they really want to play in the Major Leagues, where they can get help. And it's not help they have to pay for; it's help for free."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.