Tag Archives: Kevan Smith

Unsung Narvaez is the Patient Type

It’s been a silent triumph on the South Side for catcher Omar Narvaez—who manager Rick Renteria hinted may return as part of the fold in 2018 pending the arrival of catching prospect Zack Collins. Collins just finished out his season in Double-A Birmingham after a late season promotion.

Narvaez is top-four among MLB catchers in walk rate, on-base percentage, and strikeout-to-walk-rate—something I’m sure at least a few folks would be surprised to hear.

Also, Narvaez is currently holding onto an on-base percentage of .375, just behind San Francisco’s future Hall of Fame catcher Buster Posey. That’s quite the company.

“I just try to go hit one pitch and make sure it’s in a good spot when I hit it,” Narvaez said, attempting to uncover what makes his plate approach so unique. “That’s really it. I try to not swing when it’s not my pitch.”

That statement holds true when looking at Narvaez’s plate discipline numbers. He swings at just 43 percent of pitches he sees, putting him seventh in the league among catchers. He also has a swinging strike rate of just 5.5 percent and has the sixth lowest strikeout rate among catchers. What’s more, Narvaez makes contact on pitches in the strike zone 92 percent of the time, a top-three number in baseball for catchers.

”It’s just a continuation of his ability to control the strike zone,” Manager Rick Renteria said of Narvaez’s success at the plate. “He hits lefties well, he hits righties well. He just gives you a good at-bat and I think that’s continued to develop. He’s been more and more comfortable in the box, and he’s getting to know some of the guys that he’s been facing over time.”

While Narvaez is showing off his plate discipline at the dish, his lack of power may look a bit concerning. He currently has the second-lowest slugging average among catchers in baseball and has only hit two homers all season. But, when looking at his overall performance, Narvaez makes up what he lacks in power in his ability to take walks and hit the ball for quality contact, and he’s fine with that.

“I just try to be myself,” Narvaez said. “All the minor leagues are about are obviously [to] get there and you also have to know yourself and who you are. I’m not a home run guy and I already know that. I’m not afraid of ground balls up the middle”

Despite having a -3.9 in framing runs on the season and low power numbers, Narvaez still managed to pull of a season in which he has a wRC+ of 101, making him just around league average value, coupled with a 1.4 fWAR.

“I just try to keep from doing too much, you can see when I was trying to do too much was in the first half and I wasn’t that good. Second half was going back to who I really am and just trying to keep myself calm.” Narvaez said.

According to Narvaez, the roots of his patient plate approach date back to when he was a child. “It’s just something I learned from minor leagues and that my dad always taught me,” Narvaez said. “Going back to when I was ten years old, if you look back, all my family plays baseball. I kind of have that in my blood. Just listening at the dinners we had as a family it’s all about baseball, I was a kid running around but still listening to what they were talking about and I learned a lot.”

When it comes to that signature plate approach, Narvaez has a player that reminds him of himself in mind.

“Joe Mauer is kind of like me,” Narvaez said.

Mauer had a career high OBP of .444 in 2009 and has managed to maintain a career on-base percentage of .391. Not a bad player to take cues from.

“He’s kind of an opposite way guy, there’s just something about watching him in the big leagues. It’s a lot of fun,” Narvaez said.

Narvaez is correct. Mauer has a career opposite field percentage of 38 percent, as opposed to his career 24 percent pull rate. Narvaez has a career 35 percent opposite field percentage, and a pull percentage just a tad lower at 33 percent.

While Narvaez may not receive a ton of time behind the dish, and may not be as well recognized as newcomer Kevan Smith, his ability to keep his strikeout rate low and get on base are invaluable. What he lacks in power, he makes up for in plate patience and high contact rates. If Narvaez does end up back in a White Sox uniform in 2018, you’ll certainly be able to catch him on the base paths almost as much as you do behind the plate.

Giolito Feels Right at Home in Sox Rotation

At first glance, you’d never have guessed that Tuesday was Lucas Giolito’s first day with his new club.

Nerves didn’t appear to be a concern for Giolito on the day of his first big league start with the White Sox. His head wasn’t buried in a phone or an iPad. He wasn’t tucked away from everyone, preparing for the night. Instead, Giolito was entertained by his fellow pitching teammates who were playing a game of cards. Laughs and smiles aplenty.

Surrounding oneself with veteran pitchers such as Mike Pelfrey, James Shields, and even the recently successful Juan Minaya on your first day in the clubhouse seems to be a smart way to break yourself in.

“I’m excited to watch him pitch tonight,” pitcher Miguel Gonzalez said of Giolito. Gonzalez’s favorite thing the Giolito brings to the White Sox? Not his power curve or pitch mix, but his personality. “Just the way he goes about his business, he’s a smart kid, he likes to learn, he asks questions just like any other guy that’s been getting called up,” Gonzalez said. “We’re excited to have him with us.”

Giolito joined the White Sox organization last December during the annual Winter Meetings in the trade that sent Adam Eaton to the Nationals for Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning.

With the sudden success and emergence of Lopez, the hype surrounding Giolito was cast aside for a bit after what some would consider a rough start in Triple-A Charlotte. Giolito pitched to a 4.48 ERA in 128 innings with the Knights—the most innings Giolito has pitched in a season so far in his career.

After questions surrounding mechanical changes Giolito made when with the Nationals organization, the White Sox have been patient getting Giolito back to being comfortable with his execution on the mound, as well as working to strengthen his three-pitch repertoire.

“His mechanics are much more sound than they were in spring training, maybe than where they were last year with the Nationals,” Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, formerly the Nationals pitching coach, told James Fegan of The Athletic. “He’s repeating pitches a lot better. He still has some things he’s working on. The command of the curveball is getting better but also he has a really, really good changeup.”

“His past what, three starts have been really good, I don’t even need to see the video to see what he was doing well,” catcher Kevan Smith said. “Every time he’s commanding the zone, when he’s down in the zone with his heater, dropping his curveball in for strikes first pitch and using it as a put away pitch. He’s an impressive guy out there when he’s on and I’m sure he was doing all of that with his changeup as well, so when he has all three pitches working for him he’s pretty untouchable.”

Giolito’s pitch-to-watch will be that much improved curveball that Smith is so high on—a pitch that Giolito is now consistently throwing for strikes and feels confidence in.

“It’s just a big feel thing for these guys, you kind of see if they have [the curve] or not in the bullpen before the game and obviously [Giolito has] been having it,” Smith continued. “It’s a day-to-day thing, just keep working with him and see what he’s changed and just kind of move him around and just keep working towards success each time.”

Giolito found himself surrounded by familiar faces in the Sox clubhouse on Tuesday. His locker is right next to former Charlotte teammates, and recent alumni, Nicky Delmonico and Yoan Moncada.

“He’s got electric stuff, you know he goes out and competes everyday and he throws the ball well,” Delmonico said. “He’s got great composure on the mound and no matter what I think he’s going to be very successful up here.”

Giolito may no longer stand alone as the headliner in the Eaton trade that helped the White Sox begin a strong foundation for their rebuilding efforts. That space may now be shared with Lopez. Regardless, Giolito has made improvements from a year ago when he pitched just 21 innings of baseball with a 6.75 ERA in Washington.

“Obviously his stuff was lights out then, his stuff is lights out now,” Smith said. “I think this year is just boosted his confidence. He can see that he can perform at this level I think confidence is a big factor in baseball. If you believe that you can success at this level then you will.”

Lopez Lights up the Gun in Sox Debut

Reynaldo Lopez gave up two home runs and walked three batters in his White Sox debut.

Doesn’t sound quite that promising does it? There is much more to the story than the tale of the tape, though.

Lopez, calm and collected during his debut on Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, put on quite the show. His first pitch to Royals leadoff man Whit Merrifield lit up the gun at 97 mph and the heat didn’t stop there.

With six strong innings of work, a longer outing than Lopez had recorded during his last three starts with the Charlotte Knights, Lopez struck out six batters and kept pumping his fastball at 97 mph — even flirting with 99 mph on a few pitches.

Lopez made it clear that hitting 97 mph early on wasn’t simply to be chalked up to excitement.

“I don’t think it was part of the excitement or the adrenaline,” Lopez said. “That was just part of my preparation and all the work that I did in my workout and in the gym and that was the way that it showed up today. I mean, I wasn’t over excited. I was calm.”

“He looked comfortable,” Manager Rick Renteria said of Lopez postgame. “He didn’t look very nervous to be honest. He looked like he was in the right place. Everything he did was very much under control. He looked very happy to be here.”

The only runs Lopez allowed to score on the evening were two solo shots to Mike Moustakas, his 33rd and 34th homers of the season.

Catcher Kevan Smith noted that Moustakas was playing a dangerous game taking a chance on those pitches. “He was hitting fastballs of [Lopez] that were almost going to hit him and I was like “What’s this guy thinking here?” We struck him out in his first at bat, and obviously he got him in his second two but those are all at-bats that we can learn from.”

After walking three batters Friday night and a combined nine in his last three starts at Charlotte, control is still an issue that may tarnish Lopez’s seemingly perfect arsenal, but at just 23-years old, Lopez isn’t a finished product just yet. He’s simply in the next stage of his development.

Lopez has the confidence to not become derailed as he continues to grow, a very strong asset for a young pitcher such as himself. “As a pitcher, I know that I’m going to allow some hits,” Lopez said. “But I think that the key is just to keep your focus on the game and keep your confidence and that was what all I did.”

Lopez made the 18,137 hold their breath as he allowed three straight hits on three pitches in the fourth inning with just one out, already laboring at nearly 60 pitches.

“I thought that was his best inning to test him,” Kevan Smith said of the inning. “I think he got through that great. Obviously had a couple hits off him there but he kept his poise he made some great pitches in some counts that he was behind on that I was proud of him about. … That was a great inning for him to have there because he was kind of cruising a little bit and I was like, ‘When is he going to hit some adversity here?’ So, he got it and he got through it and it was a good run. I told him, ‘That was a terrific outing. Let’s see what our mistakes were and where we can get better and just keep working hard.’”

Lopez’s curveball, averaging 79 mph on the evening, was extremely impressive and garnered five swinging strikes. The curveball gives Lopez a pitch with a 17 mph disparity from his fastball, which averaged 97 mph, and gave him an excellent pitch to use to change eye levels on hitters.

The White Sox earned their fourth straight victory as they beat the Royals 6-3 on Friday evening. Lopez left the game in the sixth tied at two, giving him a no-decision on his first White Sox start. Rookie reliever Aaron Bummer gained his first big league win on the evening.

So far this season, the two biggest call ups the White Sox have seen in Yoan Moncada and now Lopez have done nothing but impress — a good sign for a strong future.