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Joey Bart’s ‘mixed bag’ of a year may mean 2021 minor league start

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the Giants dragged their cleats concerning the promotion of Joey Bart, hanging for so long with Tyler Heineman and Rob Brantly and then Chadwick Tromp while their most talented catcher worked in Sacramento, this is the scenario they feared.

A big-league callup before Bart is ready. He looks too raw. He occupies a 40-man roster spot and then has to go back down for further development.

With holes in Bart’s game that became more obvious as the season wore on, the Giants suggested they could let Bart start 2021 in Triple-A to give him more time while another catcher complements Buster Posey. Farhan Zaidi mentioned Aramis Garcia, Heineman and Tromp while also leaving the door open for a more veteran option through free agency or trade.

The Giants still believe in Bart, but they didn’t see enough that told them he’s ready right now.

“There’s some development left there,” Zaidi said Wednesday as the Giants looked back upon a season that showed progress but didn’t end in the playoffs. “… We’re super high on him going forward. I think we saw a lot of why he was the second-overall pick in the draft a couple years ago. But again, everything we do is going to be about setting him up for success in the long term.”

Bart was the best catcher the Giants had this year after Posey opted out, his arm especially impressing Zaidi and the balls that he connected with showing how much power is in his swing. But he didn’t connect with enough, and the ones he did went the wrong direction. His defense was more ready, but he had to quickly learn the pitching staff and never was comfortable with Johnny Cueto. Gabe Kapler called his time in the pros a “mixed bag.”

Offensively, Bart walked three times and struck out 41 times. His average exit velocity of 89 mph is strong, but he struggled to get balls in the air, which led to 111 plate appearances without his first major league home run. Of his batted balls, 51.6 percent were ground balls, which will need to be fixed.

“Clearly there’s some work to do in terms of elevating the ball,” Zaidi said of the 23-year-old who just had 22 games of Double-A experience in 2019 and whose 2021 spring training alongside Posey will be invaluable. “And it’s one thing to elevate the ball in A-ball. It’s another to be able to do it against major league pitching, which is at a completely different level.”

Kapler said there were times the game “was going really fast for him,” three days after Evan Longoria said it was clear Bart needed Posey around to develop, and without him he believed Bart felt “isolated.”

There was plenty for Bart to absorb, from scouting reports for both opposing pitchers and opposing hitters to figuring out how best to catch his own staff. He went through 33 games without a veteran to lean on. Both Kapler and Zaidi said he will be better for the experience he had this season, but he did not send the message that he was at the level he belonged.

Which means the Giants, who have a 2018 second-overall pick, a 2020 first-round pick and a likely future Hall of Famer returning next year all as catchers, will be seeking further help.

“It’s going to be a deep catching depth chart,” Zaidi acknowledged over Zoom. “… There’s not going to be pressure on [Bart] certainly to carry the load. And whether it makes sense for him to work in tandem with Buster or get more development experience in the minor leagues, we have plenty of time to sort that out.”


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