Milwaukee Brewers catcher Omar Narváez refuses to blame his hitting struggles last year on the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic-delayed 2020 season.
"Everything got out of control," Narváez said Sunday from the Brewers' spring training complex in Phoenix. "To me, it feels like there's no excuses. It was a short season. Everyone talks about that. I feel like as a professional, I cannot have excuses. It didn't go well."
Narváez, 29, arrived in Milwaukee with a reputation as a quality hitter and not so skilled defensively. He was just the opposite in his first season in the National League after the Brewers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in December 2019.
His batting average plunged from .278 in 2019 to .176 last year. His on-base percentage sank from .353 to .294. His OPS fell from .813 to .562.
After homering 22 times in 132 games in 2019, he had two homers in 40 games last year.
Hitting coach Andy Haines says Narváez was one of many batters putting too much pressure on themselves because of the shortened season.
"You could see him trying to do way too much," Haines said. "I said it not (just) about Omar, but about a lot of hitters I was watching, they're literally trying to have a good season with every swing they took. You can see it. And baseball cannot be played that way. It can't. If the game's ever sent us a reminder that it can't be played that way, it sent us a pretty strong one in 2020."
Narváez agrees he didn't have the right approach at the plate last season.
"I was just swinging at everything," Narváez said. "I was putting myself in bad position to try to hit the ball. That's one of the adjustments I'm trying to make this offseason. I'm going to stick with it during the season."
His hitting woes overshadowed the tremendous strides he made behind the plate to upgrade what had been his biggest weakness.
Narváez improved his pitch-framing abilities to such an extent that he led all catches in converting non-swing pitches bordering the strike zone into called strikes, according to metrics compiled by the Baseball Savant website. He had never ranked higher than 39th in that category before last season.
He also didn't allow any passed balls and threw 30% of potential base stealers, up from 18% in 2019.
"Everybody says it was a bad year for me," Narváez said. "I don't feel like it. Offensively, yes. But the on the defensive side, it was a good year for me. I take a lot of pride in that."
The Brewers are confident his hitting struggles last year represented an outlier while his progress on defense was something he can sustain.
Although his 2019 season in Seattle was his best year as a hitter, Narváez also was a relatively productive batter his three seasons with the Chicago White Sox before going to Seattle. His career numbers heading into last season included a .276 batting average, .361 on-base percentage and .411 slugging percentage.
"That's the one thing you see in Omar, is just a consistent offensive player," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "We didn't get it last year. It certainly bottomed out for him, where the struggles got real. But there's a track record there that's pretty solid, very solid, and there's every reason to believe he can get back there."
Haines spent a few days in mid-January visiting the Miami area to work with Narváez and outfielder Avisaíl García as they prepared for the season. Haines left Florida feeling encouraged.
Narváez says he didn't make any mechanical changes to his swing but tried to get his head in the right place after thinking too much last year and feeling "tired mentally" at the end of season.
He's refreshed now and ready to bounce back.
"Right now, my confidence is to the sky," Narváez said. "Just the way I feel, how my body is working, how good I am thinking. We'll see. We'll see in spring training games. I feel like everything is going to go well this year."
NOTES: Milwaukee finalized right-hander Brett Anderson's $2.5 million, one-year contract. Anderson can earn $1 million in performance bonuses for innings: $50,000 each for 100, 110, 120 and 130; $100,000 for 140; $200,000 for 150 and $250,000 apiece for 165 and 180. He earned $1,851,852 in prorated pay from a $5 million salary last year and $222,933 in earned bonuses for $2,074,785 total.
Here's everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
WHO'S ON THIRD
After Keston Hiura moved to first base to make way for Kolten Wong, third base remained the only position without an obvious starting candidate. Barring a surprise, last-minute acquisition, the Brewers appear content to give a number of internal candidates a chance to win the job. For now, Luis Urias (above) looks like the front-runner with former top-prospect Daniel Robertson likely to get a shot, too.
Acquired last winter in a trade with Seattle, Omar Narváez (above) was supposed to give the Brewers a much-needed offensive boost while admittedly being a work-in-progress behind the plate. Instead, Narvaez was one of many Brewers hitters to struggle last season but surprised the Brewers’ coaching staff and front office with his defensive improvements. He’s back again in 2021 but will have to battle for a job with the likes of Manny Piña, Jacob Nottingham and Luke Maile.
With Brett Anderson returning on a one-year deal, the Brewers will open camp with all five spots of their starting rotation seemingly filled. But as history has shown, it’s rare to get through an entire season with just five starters. So who’s waiting in the wings if and when the Brewers need a replacement? Eric Lauer (above) and Freddy Peralta will try to earn spots in the rotation this spring, as will former UW-Stevens Point standout Jordan Zimmermann, who is in camp on a minor league deal.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
It was a quiet offseason for the Brewers, but they weren’t unique in that regard. Across baseball, trades and signings seemed to be few and far between as players and teams both waited out a winter of uncertainty. Now that camps are open, there’s a greater likelihood of trades and with more than 100 free agents still unsigned, the Brewers’ roster could have a new face or two before the season gets underway.
WILL IT LAST?
Baseball is back, but for how long? That might be the single biggest question this spring, not just for the Brewers but baseball as a whole. The pandemic still rages on and though vaccinations are on the rise, one infection can quickly become an outbreak that leaves an entire team sidelined indefinitely. Players resisted requests and suggestions to delay the start of spring training, and the regular season, by a month believing they proved last year they can complete a season safely. But the margin for error is still slim and another full-blown shutdown of spring training, which would ultimately impact the regular season, remains one large outbreak away.
SPRING TRAINING ROSTER
Teams are allowed to have up to 75 players in major league camp at any given time and the Brewers go into camp with all 40 of their roster spots filled along with 19 non-roster invitees. Once the regular season begins, active rosters will revert to the original 26-player limit that was planned for 2020 before the pandemic suspended operations. Teams still are allowed to add an additional player to the active roster for doubleheaders and can have a taxi squad of up to five players — including one catcher — on all road trips. Rosters will expand again in September, but only by two spots for a total of 28.
Pitchers (31): Brett Anderson, Clayton Andrews*, Aaron Ashby*, Alec Bettinger, Phil Bickford, Ray Black, Zach Brown*, Corbin Burnes, Jake Cousins*, J.P. Feyereisen, Dylan File, Josh Hader, Blaine Hardy*, Adrian Houser, Thomas Jankins*, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, Hoby Milner*, Freddy Peralta, Angel Perdomo, Drew Rasmussen, Miguel Sanchez*, Ethan Small*, Brent Suter, Justin Topa, Quintin Torres-Costa*, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Yardley, Jordan Zimmermann*.
Catchers (6): Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry*, Luke Maile, Omar Narvaez, Jacob Nottingham, Manny Pina.
Infielders (11): Orlando Arcia, Zach Green*, Keston Hiura, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jace Peterson*, Daniel Robertson, Brice Turang*, Luis Urias, Daniel Vogelbach, Kolten Wong.
Outfielders (11): Lorenzo Cain, Dylan Cozens*, Derek Fisher, Avisail Garcia, Tristen Lutz*, Billy McKinney, Garrett Mitchell*, Corey Ray, Pablo Reyes*, Tyrone Taylor, Christian Yelich.
* -- Non-roster invitee
Manager Craig Counsell’s coaching staff will have a different look in 2021. Third-base coach Ed Sedar has transitioned into a new, advisory role while longtime bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel’s contract was not renewed by the team after last season.
Sedar will be replaced on the staff by Quintin Berry, who had been the Brewers' minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator for the last two seasons after concluding his 13-year playing career serving as a player/coach with Class AAA Colorado Springs in 2018.
Néstor Corredor and Adam Weisenburger will replace Hanel and Robinson Diaz as the team's bullpen catchers.
The rest of Counsell's staff will remain intact moving forward, including hitting coaches Andy Haines (above left) and Jacob Cruz. Chris Hook and Steve Karsay will handle Milwaukee’s pitchers and bullpen, respectively, and Pat Murphy returns for a sixth season as Counsell’s bench coach.
Jason Lane, the Brewers’ first base coach last season, returns, too, though Counsell planned to decide during spring training where Lane and Berry would be used in games this season.
Manager — Craig Counsell (7th season). Bases — Quintin Berry (1st season), Jason Lane (5th season); Bullpen — Steve Karasy (3rd season); Bench — Pat Murphy (6th season); Hitting — Jacob Cruz (2nd season); Andy Haines (3rd season); Bullpen catchers — Néstor Corredor (1st season); Adam Weisenburger (1st season).
CACTUS LEAGUE SCHEDULE
The Cactus League schedule underwent a last-minute adjustment earlier this month with the elimination of split-squad games. The Brewers will play 27 games in Arizona — 14 at American Family Fields and 13 on the road — and wrap up their exhibition slate with a pair of contests against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on March 29 and 30 before returning to Milwaukee ahead of their April 1 regular-season opener against the Twins at American Family Field.
February: 28 — @ Chicago White Sox. March: 1 — at Diamondbacks; 2 — vs. Athletics.; 3 — at Padres; 4 — vs. Cleveland.; 5 — at Rockies; 6 — vs Cubs; 7 — OFF; 8 — vs. Angels; 9 — vs. Giants; 10 — at Athletics; 11 — vs. Royals; 12 — at Cubs; 13 — vs. Rangers; 14 — at Mariners; 15 — vs. Padres; 16 — at Dodgers; 17 — OFF DAY; 18 — at Angels; 19 — vs. Diamondbacks; 20 — at Reds (7 p.m.); 21 — vs. Mariners; 22 — vs Cleveland; 23 — vs. Dodgers; 25 — at Giants (8 p.m.); 26 — vs. White Sox; 27 — at Royals; 28 — at Reds; 29 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas); 30 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas).
(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all games start at 2:10 p.m. local time prior to March 14 and 3:10 p.m. after, due to Arizona not observing Daylight Savings Time)
IF YOU GO
Unlike previous seasons, fans will not be able to watch the team’s workouts, which take place on the complex’s ancillary fields. That means no opportunities for kids — little and big alike — to get autographs and pictures. The team store at American Family Fields also remains closed for now but the team announced last week that a limited number of fans — up to 23% of capacity at the 10,000-seat stadium — will be allowed to attend games when Cactus League play gets underway.