The baseball world waits with bated breath for the consummation of the Randy Johnson trade. If the deal goes through as expected, one of the players that Arizona receives (reportedly) will be catcher Dioner Navarro. Thought to be New York's best prospect a year ago at this time, Navarro's status suffered in '04, thanks to an erratic season. But the 21-year old Venezuelan is still considered one of the better catching prospects in the game, with a good mixture of defensive and offensive skills.
Navarro is not physically imposing, standing just 5-foot-10. When in proper physical condition, he shows very good physical strength and overall mobility. His best tool is his throwing arm, which is very strong and generally quite accurate. Sometimes he relies on his arm strength a bit too much, letting his arm do the work but not concentrating enough on his release and his footwork. This should improve with experience. He handles the other defensive chores well, although a few scouts have criticized his game-calling. That's another thing that will improve in time. On offense, Navarro is a line-drive hitter at this point. He has a short and compact stroke from both sides of the plate. He doesn't have a lot of home run power, since his swing is level and not tailored for loft. He hits quite a few doubles, and more home runs may come eventually. Navarro shows good command of the strike zone and will take a walk if offered. He does not strike out much, and with his quick swing is difficult to overpower. He runs about as well as most catchers. In regards to makeup, Navarro is very confident, sometimes to the point of being too confident. That's another thing he can grow out of with maturity.
Navarro had a breakthrough season in 2003, hitting a combined .321 with improved power production. He slumped in '04, especially early in the season. However, he played better as the season progressed and was back in good graces by September. Navarro has shown the ability to hit for average and knock some doubles. Given a normal growth curve, he projects as a .265-.285 hitter at maturity. It is unclear how much power he will have. Right now it doesn't look like he'll hit more than 10-15 homers a season, but some observers believe he could do better than that eventually. Power or no, he should hit for average and post a good OBP, assuming he remains patient.
Nagging injuries common for most catchers have been Navarro's biggest problems so far. A more serious self-imposed difficulty came last spring training, when he came to camp overweight, which hurt his quickness on both offense and defense. He had worked through that by the end of the season, but it did drop his stock in the eyes of more than one club interested in trading for him at the July deadline.
What to expect
If the trade goes through, Navarro could ultimately end up with the Dodgers in a Shawn Green package. With the Diamondbacks, Navarro would join catching prospects Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder. Most believe that Navarro needs another year in the minors to iron out his remaining defensive flaws and become more consistent offensively. If the trade does not go through, Navarro will return to Columbus and work on the same things. Either way, trade or no trade, 2005 will be a critical juncture for Navarro and his status as a top prospect.
John Sickels is the author of The 2005 Baseball Prospect Book. The book ships on Feb. 1, and can be ordered only at Johnsickels.com. He is also the author of Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, which can be ordered online or at your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas and two happy cats.