Where does Daniel Nava fit with the Pirates?

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Where does newly signed outfielder Daniel Nava fit in with the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates?

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract. This comes after Nava spent the 2017 season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Prior to playing for the Phillies, Nava played for the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Kansas City Royals.

When healthy, Daniel Nava has been an above replacement level player in his career. In 589 career games played he has a fWAR of 5.7. He has had a fWAR of 1.0 or higher in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2017.

Daniel Nava being signed to a minor league contract is similar to Matt Joyce in 2016. Unless Nava gets hurt in Spring Training or is just flat out awful, the switch-hitting outfielder will make the Opening Day roster.

When the regular season begins Pirate fans should expect to see Daniel Nava platooning with Adam Frazier, or, possibly, even playing on an everyday basis. The signing of Nava may also push Jordan Luplow to Triple-A to start the season while helping to create an Opening Day roster spot for utility infielder Max Moroff.

A lot could also hinge on if Josh Harrison is traded or not. If he is, then Frazier will become the team’s starting second baseman creating even more of an opening in the outfield for the newly signed Nava. Even though Daniel Nava is a better option than Adam Frazier, the Pirats have shown they are extremely high on Frazier and, therefore, will probably look to get him as many at-bats as possible.

Throughout his career Daniel Nava has been a strong defensive outfielder. He has been responsible for 5 defensive runs saved (DRS) as a left fielder in his career and 12 as a right fielder. Nava will be an upgrade defensively over the likes of John Jaso, Jose Osuna, and even Andrew McCutchen.

While Nava will have a great opportunity to start the season seeing a good number of at-bats, if all goes according to plan, this will not continue throughout the season. That is because if everything goes as Neal Huntington, Clint Hurdle, and the Pirates hope then Austin Meadows will be a starting outfielder before the end of the season.

If/when Meadows is ready for the Major Leagues, Daniel Nava can then slide to the bench and become the Pirates’ fourth outfielder. This would improve the Pirate bench and give them a strong fourth outfielder/pinch hitter in Nava.

Last season with the Phillies, Nava owned a 12.1 percent walk rate and a .393 on-base percentage. Nava has always been a strong on-base player owning a lifetime 9.9 percent walk rate and a .357 on-base percentage. He also struck out at just a 17.8 percent rate, while posting a .357 wOBA and a 119 wRC+ last season. Defensively, Nava owned a DRS of 0 as a right fielder and a DRS of +3 as a left fielder in 2017.

Despite his strong 2017 season, ZiPS projections for 2018 are not kind for Nava. As Dave talks about here, he is projected to be a below league average hitter and a replacement level player. However, if used in a non-starting role it should help with his production.

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When the season begins, look for Daniel Nava to get plenty of starts as at least a platoon player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Then when Austin Meadows arrives, Nava should slide to a fourth outfielder bench role.