PHOENIX — In an effort to get players more rest and provide more focused individual workouts, the Milwaukee Brewers are starting their spring training sessions a little later in the day than in years past.
Nobody in camp might be more appreciative of that adjustment than catcher Omar Narváez.
Narváez has perhaps the heaviest workload of anyone in the Brewers’ clubhouse this spring. Acquired in a December trade with Seattle, he’s been on a crash course to learn the intricacies and tendencies of Milwaukee’s pitching staff ahead of the March 26 season opener.
With 32 pitchers in camp, that is no small task, but Narváez said it’s nothing he can’t handle.
“It’s nothing like last year (with the Mariners),” he said. “I had 49 pitchers (throughout the season), so it’s going to be short work for me.”
Brought on after Yasmani Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million deal with the Chicago White Sox, Narváez will share time behind the plate with veteran Manny Pina, who’s been sharing the knowledge he’s gathered in four seasons with the Brewers to help bring Narváez up to speed.
“Almost every day, we’ve texted,” said Pina, who already knew Narváez from winter ball. “When he got traded here, I (messaged) him and said, ‘Hey, bro, welcome to the Brewers.’
“He texted me back, and as soon as I saw him at FanFest, we started working on the pitching staff.”
Pina has also been part of the Brewers’ efforts to improve Narváez’s defensive game, which he admits is something of a work in progress.
Defensive metrics back that up. Last year, Narváez ranked near the bottom of the American League with minus-20 defensive runs saved while throwing out just 18% of runners trying to steal.
“I made some improvements last year but obviously, not enough,” Narváez said. “My goal is to try to be in the (middle) of the ranking for now. Once I’m there, obviously my goal is going to be No. 1. But I’m just trying to make baby steps for now.”
The Brewers knew he needed to hone that portion of his game but were confident both in his existing skill set as well as the ability of their coaching staff, which includes the organization’s catching instructor Charlie Green, to help Narváez grow into the role.
The daily meetings have also included bench coach Pat Murphy and Class AAA San Antonio manager Rick Sweet, whom Brewers manager Craig Counsell credited with helping prospect Jacob Nottingham continue his development. Bullpen catchers Marcus Hanel and Robinson Diaz as well as Milwaukee’s Manager of Baseball Strategy, Walker McKinven, are also involved.
“This is a team effort,” Counsell said. “I really like the plan we’re going to undertake and Omar is excited to get started.”
“I’m all in,” he said. “It’s going to be helpful.”
The daily tutoring sessions, film study and bullpen work won’t leave Narváez much time to work on his offense, but it’s the part of his game that requires the least amount of concern after he slashed .278/.353/.460 with 22 home runs, 55 RBIs and an .813 OPS in 428 at-bats last season.
Along with power, Narváez has shown impressive plate discipline. He struck out only 92 times while drawing a career-best 47 walks a year ago. Narváez also is a strong contact hitter whose weighted runs created plus of 119 put him fourth among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances last season, just behind Grandal, who finished with 121.
“I don’t see my offense too much,” Narváez said. “I work on it, but I don’t focus on my offense. What I try to do is focus on my defense for the whole year. I don’t feel like my offense needs to be right on point, because that will get there.”
With Narváez and Pina slated to share time at the big league level, Nottingham, 24, will continue his development at Class AAA to start the season but figures to see another taste of big league action at some point in 2020.
The Brewers have seven catchers in camp, including non-roster invitees Mario Feliciano, Tuffy Gosewisch and Payton Henry.
Ray gets to work
Minor league outfielder Corey Ray is among the position players who’ve reported to camp early.
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 draft is trying to bounce back after a finger injury hindered his development last season. He begins the year ranked fourth among Milwaukee’s top 30 prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com, and he’ll need a strong camp in order to make a name for himself in a crowded outfield.
“This is a big year for Corey, without question,” Counsell said. “He’s worked really hard this offseason, both offensively and on foundational stuff.”
With Counsell planning to ease his veteran outfielders — Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun and Christian Yelich — into Cactus League play, he expects Ray to get plenty of action once games get underway next weekend.
“As much as anybody, Corey will benefit from having at-bats to learn himself better,” Counsell said. “So you’ll see him out there quite a bit.”
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