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Brewers by position: Catcher Omar Narvaez hoping strong defensive showing spurs return to offensive form
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Brewers by position: Catcher Omar Narvaez hoping strong defensive showing spurs return to offensive form

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First impressions can often be deceiving and for proof, look no further than Milwaukee Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez.

Acquired from Seattle in Nov. 2019 to replace Yasmani Grandal, Narvaez was expected to be a key offensive contributor while admittedly needing work — a lot of work — on the defensive aspect of his game.

The Brewers were confident they could help Narvaez improve in that regard and Narvaez bought in, as well. His efforts before and during spring training drew praise from manager Craig Counsell, the Brewers' coaches and pitchers and his performance on the field once the season finally got underway surpassed expectations.

Evaluating catchers' defensive performance is difficult but one of the primary metrics — the Society of American Baseball (SABR) Research's Defensive Index rankings (SDI) — ranked Narvaez at -11.2 in 2019, the worst of any qualifying catcher in Major League Baseball.

Last season, Narvaez's SDI was 1.1, putting him fifth among National League backstops.

"These are the things that can change careers," Counsell said. "We had a meeting with Omar and Manny (Pina) in late January at Fan Fest. I thought that really just kicked it off and he really took ownership of it."

While he shattered expectations behind the plate, Narvaez failed to live up to his reputation standing over it. A .276 career hitter with 34 home runs and .772 OPS at the time of the trade, Narvaez hit just .176 with 10 home runs and a .562 OPS in 2020.

Like he did with his defensive struggles, Narvaez took complete responsibility for his offensive problems last season.

“Everything got out of control,” Narvaez said. “There’s no excuses. It was a short season but as a professional, I cannot have excuses. It just didn’t go well but I tried to learn from it and make adjustments.”

Narvaez is the front-runner to be Milwaukee’s starter but he’ll have to earn that job this spring. Pina will be back, likely in a backup role again, while prospect Jacob Nottingham, still rehabbing from offseason surgery on his thumb, is expected to join the ranks later in camp. The Brewers also invited another prospect, 22-year-old Mario Feliciano, to big-league camp and to provide additional insurance at the position, signed 29-year-old free agent Luke Maile to a one-year deal during the offseason.

“We’ve got a lot of catchers, many of them with experience at the Major League level,” Stearns said in the wake of the tender deadline. “We think all of them have the ability to contribute at the Major League level. It will give us time over the coming months to sort through all of that.”

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