Giants Notes: Joey Bart has left the runway so it’s time to move forward

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The torch should have passed by now.

2018 MLB draft pick Joey Bart should have a firm grip on the Giants’ picking position this spring and for the foreseeable future. He shouldn’t be an understudy to Buster Posey anymore. Even Posey’s shadow has pulled back a tiny bit as the organization enters its second season without him.

Instead, Giants president Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler Bart called a player plan meeting Wednesday when pitchers and catchers reported for their physicals at Scottsdale Stadium. And they informed Bart that nothing would be guaranteed this spring or this season.

Not your everyday catch job. Not the start on opening day. Not even a safe spot on the list.

Not even when his competitor is a non-roster invitee who’s started 62 big league games in the last two seasons, a Rule 5 draftee who’s never been more than a part-time catcher in the Pirates’ minor league system and a backup the Giants designated for use a month ago before re-signing to a minor league contract.

Roberto Pérez, Blake Sabol, Austin Wynns and Bart will compete in an all-open competition for two roster spots this spring, Kapler said. And another first-round pick, Patrick Bailey, is likely to start the season at Double-A Richmond.

Bart is off the runway. Now it’s time for him to move forward.

“For anyone interested in getting into the big leagues, the organization wants to give them a chance to achieve performance and success, and at a certain point a player just has less of that runway,” Kapler said. “He just shows up like others do in a major league camp. And there we are with Joey.

“He’s had some moments of performance at the major league level, (but) I don’t think his career physique deserves a surefire inside track to the #1 catch job. And the only way to do that is by earning it and making it absolutely clear that we want him to be our start catcher.”

What should Bart, 26, improve on during his exit interview in October? Kapler offered a more timely answer: What they told Bart Wednesday about having to demonstrate this spring.

“We asked him to bring the ball more into play,” said Kapler. “Very simple, very, very direct. When Joey was relegated to the minor leagues (in June) and we asked him to make that swing change, he came up and in some ways was a more productive hitter, which was great. However, the swing-and-miss was still there. August was his best month but September was a real challenge when it comes to getting the ball in play.”

Bart batted 38.5 percent of the time last season. Of the 317 major league players who made at least 250 plate appearances, only Joey Gallo hit at a higher rate. And it wasn’t Bart’s pursuit rate that accounted for so many of his strikeouts. The bigger problem was establishing consistent contact within the zone.

It might be different if Bart were a defensive back like Houston’s Martín Maldonado, who was one of the least prolific offensive players in the league but continued to tie up a World Series winner due to his extreme value behind the plate. Bart also needs to work on defense.

Kapler praised Bart’s positive traits: his physical presence, sturdiness, arm strength, and above-average frame counts before they faded last season. But Kapler also pointed out that despite having above-average arm strength, Bart wasn’t consistently making competitive throws to the bases. And with rule changes aimed at enticing baserunners to take more risks, teams that can control the game in progress have a bigger advantage this season.

Zaidi said he felt meeting Bart went well.

“Joey is in great shape,” said Zaidi. “He has built a lot of relationships with our players and our coaching staff in our team. He knows the areas he needs to work on. It is very easy for someone with a preliminary pedigree to focus on (areas of) improvement. But it’s also about appreciating the progress he’s made and the attitude he has to show what he’s capable of now.”

Pérez, a Gold Glove winner with Cleveland in 2019-20, is a 34-year-old hoping to rediscover his 24-homer swing from four seasons ago. Wynns is an upbeat and energetic personality who was dropped from the Orioles’ Triple-A roster last season but hasn’t served as an everyday catcher in the big leagues. Sabol, a Rule 5 pick the Giants acquired through trade, would make his major league debut if the Giants could field him. Kapler and his coaches were proactive in sending Sabol videos and connecting him with Giants pitchers so he could work on building relationships before this camp started. They wanted Sabol to be as prepared as possible to compete for a roster spot.

Because a competition behind the plate is exactly what that will be.

“A completely open competition,” said Kapler. “Four catchers, all with an equal opportunity to earn both playing time and squad spots.”

Top shortstop pro Marco Luciano suffered a stress fracture in his lower back while playing for Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League, the Giants announced Wednesday. Luciano was limited to 65 games last season due to a back strain; Zaidi said the Dominican’s injury, which Luciano suffered when he slid onto home plate, was a further aggravation.

Luciano has started baseball work, but the team isn’t sure the promising 21-year-old would make it back in time to compete in exhibition games. Zaidi said back problems are always an issue but Luciano should be able to stay at shortstop and team doctors don’t see the injury as a long-term problem.

“There aren’t those signs of degeneration that you see when it becomes chronic,” Zaidi said of Luciano, who is unlikely to miss much, if anything, at the start of the minor-league season.

Right-hander Cole Waites, a front-runner for last place in the bullpen, tore the right lat muscle in his upper side on a hill drop 10 days ago and will be sidelined indefinitely.

Right-hander Luke Jackson threw a 25-pitch session off a hill on Tuesday. Jackson is expected to open the season on the 60-Day Injury List as he completes his rehab following Tommy John’s surgery to reconstruct his right elbow.

The Giants also provided a medical update on outfielder Michael Conforto, who underwent shoulder surgery and did not play last season. Conforto throws at 165 feet but will start the Spring Games as batsman-designated if he completes his throwing progression. However, Conforto and Zaidi painted a more optimistic picture. Conforto said he considers a Friday pitching session the final step before considering himself “a normal guy” this spring. Zaidi also noted that all of the data the Giants have collected on Conforto’s throwing progress has been positive.

(Photo: Ron Chenoy / USA Today) Giants Notes: Joey Bart has left the runway so it’s time to move forward

Russell Falcon

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