Dioner Navarro entered Spring Training with the Toronto Blue Jays as a beacon of hope behind the plate. Just months removed from the J.P. Arencibia experience, Jays fans wiped the final tears from their eyes, hesitant to trust another catcher again. “We just got out of a bad relationship”, they said, eyes lowered. “We’re not ready to see other people yet”. Navarro was awarded a 2-year, $8M contract by the Blue Jays following his breakout 2013 campaign with the Chicago Cubs.
Many questioned whether Dioner Navarro would be able to repeat his 2013 performance, a statistical outlier, or whether his body could handle a full duty of 120+ games. Navarro’s first half of the 2014 season was certainly not up to the level of his 2013, but he provided stable and reliable at-bats nonetheless. Since the All-Star break, however, Dioner has awoken. In his past 10 games, Navarro is batting .375 / .409 / .575. Coming at the end of July, a month in which Dioner Navarro hit .300 with 2HR’s and 12RBI, Jays fans should be excited about this upward trend.
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Dioner Navarro has spent over half of his career as a backup catcher, but he was once heralded to be much more. Originally signed as an amateur Free Agent in 2000 by the New York Yankees, Dioner Navarro arguably became the number one prospect in the Yankees system by 2003. After finding success at the AA and AAA levels before a brief debut with the Yankees in ’04, Navarro was the centrepiece of a January 2005 trade package to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson. Later that same day, the Diamondbacks shipped Navarro to the Los Angeles Dodgers as the centrepiece of a package for Shawn Green.
Navarro did not suffer any great fall from grace, and should not be considered a “bust” following his early prospect outlooks. He has still put together a lengthy Major League career peppered with flashes of what could have been. His 2008 All Star season as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays and 2013 campaign with the Cubs are miles from his career performance, but Navarro is showing in Toronto that he can still be a starting-calibre catcher.
With nearly 100 more plate appearances already in 2014 than he had in 2013, Navarro’s body will be put to the test through August and September. Jays fans should not be shocked to see him receive some more time at DH. Navarro is not necessarily a strong defensive catcher, and we don’t need to get into details on his speed. He is great at managing a pitching staff, and a world-class teammate by all accounts, but Navarro’s impact on this team will be as great as his bat allows. Many of his problems throughout his career have been due to a time of struggle at the plate, with no base running or defensive contributions to counter-act it.
Where the Blue Jays stand right now, though, Dioner Navarro is playing with the passion and performance of a man who wants playoff baseball. The conversation of baseball is all too often dragged down by those predicting the future failure of players, claiming a player is due for struggles because of his current over-achievements or past shortcomings. Dioner Navarro, however, is peaking at the right time. While many are counting the days until Navarro returns to his backup-calibre form of years past, perhaps we should appreciate a player elevating their performance at key times for their ball club.
In the same fashion as Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, and Marcus Stroman, Navarro has played above expectations in the absence of several Blue Jays stars and helped the team stay above water. His half-strange, half-beautiful swing should help keep the heart of the Blue Jays order strong until the return of Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind, then provide secondary offence through September. Perhaps a bit longer.