Over the next few weeks, BP South Side will be reviewing the performance of all 51 players who suited up for the 2017 White Sox. Players whose seasons were particularly noteworthy will get their own standalone article, while smaller contributors or those who were traded/cut will be grouped together. We’ll do our best to summarize and analyze what each player brought to this year’s club, what we learned, didn’t learn, and what it all means for his future with the team.
Throughout his time in the minors, Omar Narvaez demonstrated that he could make contact and draw walks. After a partial season in his major league debut in 2016, the skill apparently translated against the highest level of pitching. Another ~300 PAs of .277/.373/.340 hitting showed he clearly owns an on-base ability that is well above average in a league where catchers collectively posted an OBP of .315.
Indeed, Narvaez achieves this despite the complete non-existence of any power whatsoever. Anyone who has watched him hit shows how he pulls this off, with his good eye, ability to spoil pitches, shorten his swing, and approach with a goal of nothing more than reaching first base. And thus, we have a triple slash line that accurately conveys exactly the type of player Narvaez is on offense, and what we can reasonably expect to see moving forward. After all, if pitchers could just get him out by going straight at him, one imagines they would have already done so.
So far so good — we have a lopsided, but valuable offensive profile from a left-handed bat that plays a valuable position in his mid-20s. The problem isn’t here. The problem comes on the other side of the ball.
By our metrics, Narvaez ranked as 87th in framing runs and 94th in overall catcher defense. Between that and his power, the ceiling here is low. One reason for optimism is that Narvaez is quite young, framing is something that can be improved with coaching, and in some, but not all, instances, the White Sox have managed to coach up framing.
The White Sox don’t have to make any decisions about Narvaez right now. Unless they want to try to sign a reclamation project like Jonathan Lucroy this offseason, the other catchers on the free agent market are all much older than Narvaez and offer similarly one-dimensional production, if any at all. Teams aren’t really in the habit of trading away usable catchers, either, seeing how few of them there are to be had.
Internally, Zack Collins is the only prospect with a chance at being an impact player at the position, and that is hardly a given, nor is it imminent. In other words, with Narvaez here, the White Sox have a player who pairs well with the more numerous, right-handed options at catcher for a platoon situation, and may be able to shore up his weaknesses on defense such that he is something resembling a second division starter.
If nothing else, for zero investment, he is a nifty find, and certainly an unusual, interesting player to watch.
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