Engines are aplenty, and process is referenced far more often than results. But the Gabe Kapler-ism that becomes the most obvious the more you listen to him is an unrelenting positivity. He will dissect players’ games, but with an emphasis toward how they need to improve.
So it was a rarity when Gabe Kapler, after a Sept. 19 game in which Joey Bart went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, said, “Right now I think he’s getting it handed to him. … There are some areas of his game right now that are getting exploited.”
He struggled identifying breaking balls. He was consistently getting jammed and couldn’t get his hands around. He struck out 41 times and walked three times in 111 plate appearances, leading to the Giants bringing in Curt Casali to pair with Buster Posey and hint Bart will start the season in the minors.
There were clear spots for Bart to work on in his first extended struggle in his professional life. He couldn’t get into his normal Georgia Tech facilities because of COVID-19, but worked with a trainer this offseason and believes he’s put the work in.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger, and I’ve cleaned some things up,” Bart said over Zoom on Sunday. “So I had a great offseason, just kind of got my mind prepared for what was coming this spring.”
Gabe Kapler said he has noticed the sponge and elbow grease that has Bart has applied over the past few months, but the holes, or lack thereof, won’t be seen publicly until the real at-bats start. They will likely come in Sacramento, where the 24-year-old will have to prove he can better differentiate between pitches.
Bart suggested he tried to do too much last season — which is understandable for a rookie catcher who has to learn his own pitchers and opposing ones.
“I think Joey is going to continue to work on identifying which pitches are balls out of hand and which pitches he shouldn’t be giving up on,” the manager said. “… What Joey is working on is identifying early pitches that he can drive and really being aggressive to those pitches.”
It’s a mindset, too. Perhaps having Posey around every day will help.
Bart got some time with the legendary catcher last year but was demoted early — March 10 — from camp 1.0, then Posey opted out of summer camp. There isn’t a better person to learn from, both with the glove and bat, and Bart is soaking it up.
“We missed him,” said Bart, who finished last season with a .233/.288/.320 slashline in 33 games. “It’s great to have him and he’s just got so much knowledge. The things he says, it’s never for waste. … Everyone kind of listens to him when Buster starts talking.”
Posey is best known for his work with pitchers, so many of whom he’s guided through games against all odds. That aspect is where Kapler has seen Bart grow the most from last spring to this spring.
The manager pointed to Bart’s body language in working with pitchers whose bullpen sessions he catches. The pitcher and catcher will meet in the middle once the session finishes to go over what worked and what didn’t, what each say.
“It’s really impressive to hear Joey’s feedback,” Kapler said. “It’s really responsive to some of the things that our pitching coaches are asking for, but also he’s giving his own independent opinion with conviction, and we asked for some of that from him.”
There is less concern about his catching than his bat (although he’ll have to work with Johnny Cueto more to get on the same page). The top prospect now knows what the big leagues are like, and he’ll have to work his way back to prove he belongs there.
“When you face really good pitching, you often think, oh, I got to be as good or better as this guy,” Bart said. “That’s not how it goes.”