SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants are striking a different tone this spring with Joey Bart. He is 26 years old, almost five years since San Francisco made him its highest drafted player since Will Clark and one underwhelming big-league season since he last appeared on a prospect list.
Nothing is guaranteed.
“Any prospect that comes to the big leagues, the organization wants to give them a chance to perform and to succeed. At a certain point, that player has less of that runway and he’s more just competing like others are in a major-league camp like we have,” manager Gabe Kapler said to kick off camp. “That’s where we are with Joey.”
Last spring, Bart wasn’t anointed the starter, either. He won the role, and when the Giants broke camp, the post-Buster Posey era appeared to be off to a rollicking start. Bart showed off his light-tower power on Opening Day, but the ensuing 161 games were mostly downhill. There was a demotion, a promotion and a swing change; a hot August but a cold September. A year later, he’s right back where he was last spring. Fighting for a job.
“At times it was obviously tough,” Bart said of his 2022, speaking to reporters Friday for the first time this spring. “For me, I’ve kind of gotten over that backwards thinking. All the punches I took, how am I gonna react to those? … There’s very few guys who can walk in here from day one and just have it. That’s what I’m excited about, taking all of the failures I’ve had and some of the successes I’ve had and moving forward with them.”
While Bart repeatedly used the word “excited” to describe his emotions, Kapler observed that Bart has been reserved during his first few days of camp. That is his nature, but it was also one hurdle he cleared last spring, when Kapler routinely remarked on Bart’s growing comfort level and the relationships he was building with the pitching staff.
The word of the next six weeks for Bart: contact. He whiffed in 38.5% of his trips to the plate last season. Only one player with as many plate appearances struck out more often: Joey Gallo (39.8%).
“He has to believe what’s keeping him from being the big leaguer that he wants to be and we want him to be is just more consistent contact,” Kapler said. “He has to really believe that’s the thing that is standing in his way.”
And if not, then, well, that’s why Roberto Pérez, Blake Sabol and Austin Wynns are in camp. (And while only Bart and Sabol are on the 40-man roster, Bart is also the only player they can option to Triple-A.)
That Bart’s competition is made up of his backup from last year, a Rule 5 draft pick who hasn’t played a game in the majors (or many professionally behind the plate at all) and a 34-year-old who has struggled to stay healthy, and that he hasn’t won the position outright, could say as much about Bart’s standing in the organization as anything else.
“I would see it as a true competition,” Kapler said. “We have four guys essentially battling for two roster spots and playing time within those roster spots. I think it’s a great thing for our camp. It’s no secret that for us to have the type of season we want, we need two of those guys to step up and be contributors.”
Pérez has a corner locker in the Giants’ clubhouse here, one stall separating him from Bart. It used to belong to Brandon Belt.
Bart met Pérez for the first time last week, when they arrived in Scottsdale. He said he remembers watching Pérez in Cleveland, where he spent the first eight years of his career, while Bart was forming into one of the most highly regarded catching prospects in the country at Georgia Tech.
If it were up to them, the Giants would turn the clock back to 2019, when Bart still had the sheen of a top pick and Peréz turned in the best year of his career, hitting 24 home runs and winning the first of two Gold Gloves.
But it isn’t 2019. It’s 2023. And time is running out for Bart.
“I’m not really invested in everything else going on,” Bart said of the competition. “I think that can really get you thrown off what you’re doing. I’m just focused on myself. I’m focused on everyone in here coming together as a team and just moving in the right direction. That’s where I’m at.”
Roberto Pérez: Signed a contract that would pay him $2.5 million if he makes the major-league roster (and up to an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses), which might depend most of all if he can make it to Opening Day at full health. “If he is a healthy catcher, if he is a physical version of himself, he’s really good,” Kapler said. “It’s one of the better defenders in baseball. It’s a guy who not too long ago hit 24-plus home runs. It’s a guy who makes good swing decisions at the plate. It’s a guy who pitchers love throwing to.” Pérez, for what it’s worth, believes he still has that 24-homer pop in him, though he carries a career .658 OPS. “It’s there,” he said. “I’m fresh. I haven’t played much. I know I’m 34, but I feel younger. I feel good.” Terry Francona, who managed him in Cleveland, echoed that sentiment: “When he’s healthy, he’s proven at times he’s the best catcher in the game. He’s had years where he’s hit, but he can catch and throw with anybody.”
Blake Sabol: Although Sabol has mostly played outfield as a professional, Kapler made it clear the Giants see him as a catcher. It was Sabol’s position all the way through his prep career at Aliso Niguel High School (about a half-hour south of Angel Stadium) and for much of his time at USC, but he switched to outfield leading up to the MLB draft. Sabol, who has played 25 games above Double-A, must prove he can handle the responsibilities of a big-league catcher — his framing numbers were excellent in a small sample last season — and that his enticing offensive prowess from the left-handed side of the plate (.284/.363/.497 with 19 home runs between Double- and Triple-A in 2022) can play against major-league arms. Acquired in the Rule 5 draft, Sabol would have to be offered back to the Pirates if he doesn’t make the 26-man roster. A burly 6-4, Sabol described himself as a “100%” kind of guy and said his favorite catchers growing up were fellow big-bodied receivers Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters (in addition to Gary Carter, his dad’s favorite player). Kapler described his personality as “bubbly,” which shined through as he talked for nearly 20 minutes in his first time meeting with reporters.
Austin Wynns: Another high-energy, upbeat personality, Wynns hasn’t received as much attention this spring. But the Giants were quick to bring him back on a minor-league deal after waiving him for roster space, and team brass has been complimentary of the job he did last season, catching the second-most games on the team (65), with a batting average (.259), on-base percentage (.313) and OPS (.671) that exceeded Bart’s.
Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/02/18/sf-giants-nothing-guaranteed-joey-bart-moves-forward-from-tough-2022/