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.”