The Tampa Bay Rays have never been known for their catchers. Approximately 36 different players have fielded the position for the Rays in the ballclub’s 21 years of existence, yet no one man stands out as the undeniable “best.” Conceding this point, I turned to Baseball-Reference.com for the numbers and to my own gut for the opinion to compile a list of the High-Five of Tampa Bay Catchers.
Yesterday, John Flaherty‘s grit and determination through the worst of times was on center stage at spot No.5. Today, the best of times is revisited with the man who claims place No. 4.
No. 4: Dioner Navarro
The Tampa Bay Numbers
While Tampa Bay may still be waiting for its first Hall of Fame catcher, the Rays have enjoyed the spoils of several one-season wonders. Today, we meet the first of these phenoms: 2008 All-Star, Dioner Navarro. While the Venezuelan-born catcher is still playing professional ball and has called seven ballclubs home over his long career, it was his 2008 season with Tampa Bay that stands so far above the rest that it has earned the No. 4 spot on the Tampa Bay High-Five of Managers.
Signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2000, New York named him their Minor League Player of the Year in 2003. While Navarro played five games in the majors with the Yankees in 2004, they traded him to Arizona in January 2005. Arizona then traded him to Los Angeles and a career-threatening slump was born. In June 2006, the Dodgers sent the under-performing Navarro to Tampa Bay in exchange for seasoned catcher Toby Hall.
A change of scenery did little to help Navarro’s numbers, however. In 2006 and 2007 with the Devil Rays, his numbers were barely mediocre, with a batting average well below the .250 mark and 100 strikeouts to his name. Navarro played winter ball in Venezuela the following offseason, working on his mechanics and his strength. When he returned to Tampa Bay for 2008, everything had changed.
There was a lot of magic going on at the Trop that summer of 2008, and Dioner Navarro was right in the middle of it. His batting average soared to .295. His OPS climbed to .757. His strikeouts dropped to 49. HIs hits found the 126 mark, a far cry from the 88 hits of 2007. Behind the plate, he caught over 1,000 innings while bringing in a fielding percentage of .994.
Not only did Dioner Navarro make it to the All-Star game, he made it to the World Series.
Would the Rays have made it the Fall Classic without Dioner Navarro in 2008? With the kind of magic zinging through Tampa Bay that year, yeah, they probably would have. But that does not negate Navarro’s magnificent year. He was good. He was very, very good.
Unfortunately, it all fell apart for Navarro in Tampa Bay after that. His fielding and batting numbers returned to subpar states. In 2009, his OBP (.261) and SLG (.322) were among the worst in the league. His batting average plummeted down to .218 as he collected only 82 hits.
In 2010, John Jaso arrived on the scene, and Navarro’s run in Tampa Bay ended in December of that year.
While Navarro would find varying levels of success with other clubs, he never repeated those magnificent 2008 numbers he had with Tampa Bay.
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Yes, Dioner Navarro was a one-season wonder as a Ray, but, oh, what a year that was!
Tomorrow, we’ll have a look at No. 3 on the Tampa Bay High-Five of Catchers, a man we may have already run into today