Joey Bart and Farhan Zaidi talked after the Giants selected catcher Patrick Bailey in June’s draft, the president of baseball operations wanting the top-ranked prospect to know the Giants believe in him as they added competition for him.
Bart recently had another one of those talks.
This time it was Gabe Kapler reaching out to Bart and Chadwick Tromp upon San Francisco signing Curt Casali, the fourth righty-hitting catcher on their 40-man roster and a veteran who likely pushes the two unproven, returning catchers who debuted in 2020 to the minors to start next season.
The biggest addition of the Giants’ offseason will be reacquiring a likely Hall of Famer in Buster Posey, who will be back after opting out of last season to care for newborn adopted twins during the pandemic. Casali, whose bat has improved with age and who posted a career-best .866 OPS in 93 plate appearances last season with Cincinnati, is the clear front-runner to back up Posey.
If everyone stays healthy, Bart and Tromp likely would begin the 2021 campaign at the Triple-A level; Double-A and below reportedly will start late because of a corresponding late-starting minor league spring training, the further-off prospects not arriving in camp until major league camp has broken.
It’s plenty of depth for a position the Zaidi regime values highly because of the dearth of catchers who can hit. Having one (or two) who can while fielding their position well represents a huge competitive advantage.
Bart, the No. 2 pick in 2018, has that upside, but it was rarely seen in his first taste of major league ball. The 24-year-old struck out 41 times in 111 plate appearances (with just three walks) and did not connect for a home run. He held up better defensively, though Tromp became Johnny Cueto’s personal catcher, Bart and Cueto struggling to get on the same page in times they did work together.
The Giants were hesitant to call up the top prospect in the first place, wanting to ensure they waited until the time was right as Tyler Heineman, Rob Brantly and Tromp did little offensive damage. They wanted to do what was best for Bart’s development and eventually decided that learning on the fly was the call.
“It was just a really tough development environment for him being at the alternate side, and everybody felt there was just a lot more value in having him at the big-league level,” Zaidi said this weekend of Bart, who had played 22 games at Double-A. “Now we’ve got to make the best decision for him and for the organization with all the information that we have now. … We certainly want him to be part of that [spring training] competition, but we want to have alternatives if it’s the best thing for his development.”
The Giants believe it’s best for his development to have more minor league at-bats after his inability to hit inside pitches was exposed at the big-league level, slashing .233/.288/.320. All prospects were set back by the minor leagues not existing in 2020, and the ones who had to watch at home were most affected. But even those at the satellite camps had to fight for what passed as reps, and hitters and pitchers faced just about the same competition every day.
Bart will need to swing his way back toward another shot and clean up the holes that emerged on the big stage. But Tromp, who himself showed promise (especially with framing pitches) and pop in limited time, will be fighting to separate himself, too. Casali is a solid backup and Posey a legend.
Kapler reached out to let Bart know how valued he is by the organization, but it might be a while before Kapler pencils him into a lineup again.
“I think we can lay out three-year plans and five-year plans for the team and for prospects,” Zaidi said over Zoom, “but ultimately, you’ve got to be flexible and kind of make decisions that make sense in the moment.”