While the vast majority of the 2018 Chicago White Sox season was filled with enough injuries, underproduction, and all-around soul-sapping depression strong enough to drag even the rosiest of rebuild optimists down into the muck and the mire, there were actually a few fun and interesting bright spots. And I actually get to write about two of them!
It would be very fair to say that Omar Narvaez is one of BP South Side’s favorite sons. The essentially unheralded former Minor League Rule Five draft pick displayed quiet competence during his cup of coffee in 2016 (.267/.350/.337) and then improved upon it during his first full season as a backup in the majors in 2017 (.277/.373/.340). He established himself as a useful bench bat that could maybe even become half of a platoon if his defense improved a bit. A solid OBP coupled with doubles power is useful anywhere, but especially at the backstop.
Instead, circumstances forced the Sox into using Narvaez as the number one catcher after Welington Castillo got caught using EPO and missed half the season with a suspension. Fortunately enough, he rose to the challenge. Narvaez had a whopping three career home runs to his name over 412 PA before 2018. He’s the kind of hitter who somehow only managed to hit two dingers during the Season of the Juiced Ball. Yet somehow in only 322 PA this season he knocked nine pitches out of the park. His plate discipline skills remained as good as they’ve always been (with just a slight uptick in strikeouts) but seemingly out of nowhere his ISO increased 2.5 times (.063 to .152). His .794 OPS was second on the team behind only Jose Abreu’s injury-riddled .798. That’s a bat that more or less demands starting reps.
Unfortunately, his defense skills didn’t make the same jump and remain stagnantly poor. He lacks range and fluidity while blocking as his 12 passed balls and the 44 wild pitches thrown while he was catching show. He threw out 24 percent of all would be thieves, which isn’t too bad but league average was 28 percent. And while defensive metrics tend to be suspect and catchers get it worse than anyone, it’s hard to say his -17.5 FRAA is undeserved. His poor framing skills (-10.8 framing runs) gave back a win alone on defense.
His 2018 wasn’t perfect, but it was the leap forward he needed to cement his place on the 2019 roster. If the Sox can find production at other positions, that should play well enough to make his defense palatable.