White Sox

Rookie catcher Omar Narvaez has 'really impressed' White Sox

Rookie catcher Omar Narvaez has 'really impressed' White Sox

Original plans called for him to be added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, but Omar Narvaez has accelerated those with his play.

Though he has only appeared in eight games since arriving last month, the White Sox’ rookie catcher has impressed. Not only has he lived up to the scouting report as a reliable backstop whom pitchers like to throw, Narvaez has proven to be a difficult out in a small sample of plate appearances. Given his inexperience, the White Sox weren’t certain what they’d receive when they promoted Narvaez, who’d never played above Single-A before this season.

It’s safe to say that Narvaez, who is hitting .409/.552/.455 and has reached base in all eight games, has exceeded the team’s hopes and has earned more playing time.

“Frankly, none of us really knew exactly what to expect,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “He’s really impressed us.

“He has probably accelerated our internal timeline of when we were thinking he probably could contribute by what he’s done over the last several weeks.”

A minor-league Rule 5 draft pick in 2013, Narvaez went to big league camp in spring and made a nice impression on the staff when he appeared in four games and reached base five times in 10 plate appearances. But because he’d never before played above Single-A, Narvaez started the season at Double-A Birmingham and was fifth on the White Sox’ catching depth chart behind Dioner Navarro, Alex Avila, Hector Sanchez and Kevan Smith.

It was only after multiple injuries to Avila and Smith, as well as the club losing Sanchez to a waiver claim, that Narvaez reached the majors. He arrived July 6 when Avila went on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and didn’t play for seven games.

Narvaez doubled in his first major league at-bat on July 17 and later scored a run, which snapped a 34-inning scoreless streak for the White Sox. Since then, Narvaez has played eight times in 27 games and he’s reached base in each one.

“O’s been swinging it pretty good,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He has earned the right.

“Everywhere he’s been he’s been a good receiver that can throw. But right now he’s also offensively doing some pretty good things, too. When you’re up here and it looks like a professional at-bat and an educated at-bat you earn the right to keep playing.”

Even though he has hit, Narvaez said the glove is where his focus remains. Originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, Narvaez isn’t as concerned with hitting as much as being a good defender and game caller.

“I always try to concentrate catching-wise,” Narvaez said. “I don’t worry about too much hitting. My goal is to keep my defense strong …

“If you hit, it’s just a plus.”

Bullpen catcher Mark Salas said Narvaez is quiet behind the plate, meaning he doesn’t move around much and offers pitchers a nice target with the glove. He also receives the ball well, Salas said.

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Pitcher Carlos Rodon agrees with Salas and said he has quickly developed a nice rapport with Narvaez. Narvaez has caught each of Rodon’s three starts since he returned from the DL late last month (Rodon has a 3.44 ERA in that span) and the two also briefly worked together at Single-A Winston-Salem in 2014. In those two games, Rodon allowed an unearned run and struck out 10 in 6 2/3 innings. As much as Rodon likes throwing to Navarro and Avila, he hopes the White Sox keep Narvaez around when the latter comes off the DL.

“We’re always on the same page,” Rodon said. “Don’t get me wrong, the other guys are great. They’re awesome, excellent. But I just feel really comfortable with Omar. He just calls well.

I just see the glove big. I’m just comfortable with him.”

The club has grown more comfortable with Narvaez, too.

Both Navarro and Avila are free agents after this season, which could lead to another transition behind the plate. There’s belief that if Narvaez continues to perform he could earn a role as the club’s backup catcher in 2017. Not bad considering how far down Narvaez began the season on the depth chart.

“Omar has done an outstanding job based strictly on the fact that he had about 60 games above A-ball before we called him up to the big leagues,” Hahn said. “You never like to have injuries. If there’s ever any silver lining to any of this, it’s that it gives some young guys the opportunity to prove themselves at the big league level and Omar certainly has taken advantage of his shot.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.