After what the team put out, collectively, as an offense last season, I’m sure plenty of Brewers would take a do-over of 2020 if offered. That likely rings true for Milwaukee catcher Omar Narvaez more than anyone.
Narvaez was supposed to be one of the most prized offseason acquisitions for the Brewers prior to the 2020 season when he was acquired via trade from the Mariners for just a low level prospect, replacing departed backstop Yasmani Grandal.
His recent track certainly made the move intriguing. Narvaez had put up a wRC+ of at least 119 in both 2018 and 2019 and was coming off a season in which he had a career-high 22 homers, 55 RBI, and 63 runs scored – not bad for your average catcher.
Unfortunately, that was nowhere near the production the Brewers got in 2020. On a team full of bad hitters, Narvaez was abysmal, hitting .176 with a .562 OPS, slugging just two homers in 40 games, and a whiffing at a career-worst 31% strikeout rate.
Milwaukee apparently had a good feeling that the version of Narvaez that they got last season wasn’t the one they’d see going forward. Thus, they ended up signing him ahead of the non-tender deadline last fall with an eye toward the 2021 season.
From the start of spring, you could tell Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez was ready to put his 2020 season in the rearview.
In Narvaez’s first Cactus League game in 2021, the catcher went 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored. As it turned out, that would end up setting the tone for the rest of his spring, a performance he then carried right into the regular season.
Narvaez has arguably been the Brewers’ hottest hitter to start 2021. In 14 games, he is hitting .350 with a .951 OPS and leads all Milwaukee batters with a 0.7 fWAR. He has also already matched his 2020 home run total with two bombs already this year, both of which coming against the rival Cubs.
Before the season began, we wrote about three reasons why Narvaez could have a bounceback season in 2021. Those reasons were that he had some bad luck, has a better eye at the plate than he showed last year, and should show off some more power this year (which we’ve actually already seen).
So far in the early part of this season, all three points are proving true.
Sure enough, Narvaez’s BABIP has swung the other direction, rising from a career-low .254 last season to a thus far career-high .364 in 2021. That latter number will probably normalize toward his career mark as well, but it shows exactly why his poor BABIP from 2020 wasn’t likely to sustain.
It also seems as though Narvaez’s patience at the plate has returned as well, at least for now. He is striking out just 12.8% of the time so far in 2021, way down from his 31% rate last year and much closer to his 18.8% career rate.
Though he came to the Brewers as an offense-first catcher, the team ended up being pleasantly surprised at his defensive performance last year. Now that his offense seems to be returning, Milwaukee has all the makings of a complete player at the catcher’s position.
Small sample sizes like this always need to be taken with a grain of salt. But right now, it feels like the Brewers finally are getting the Omar Narvaez that they were expecting.