BRONX, NY — The Giants’ first lineup of the season didn’t include catcher Joey Bart, the former second overall pick and potential successor to Buster Posey.
Bart, 26, came off the bench in the eighth inning of San Francisco’s 5-0 loss to the Yankees, but didn’t get an at-bat. Roberto Pérez, a two-time Gold Glove winner, started and went 1-for-2.
“I’ll be ready when they call for me,” Bart told KNBR.com postgame. “Whatever (manager Gabe Kapler) does is what he’s going to do, and I respect that. Just be ready to come off the bench at any time. It’s kind of how we usually run things. You’re never really going to be off, you know what I mean? So you’ve always got to be ready to come in, make an impact when you can.”
Bart said there was “no discussion” with Kapler about whether he’d start or not prior to Opening Day.
The Giants didn’t show their hand with the catching position after the spring, when the club announced there would be an open competition between four backstops: Bart, Pérez, Blake Sabol and Austin Wynns. The first three made the 26-man roster and the Giants expect all three to catch in the first couple weeks of the season, Kapler said pregame.
San Francisco’s public declaration that Bart wasn’t guaranteed a roster spot came as a surprise. But he said he didn’t pay attention to the messaging, instead maintaining the mindset that has helped him succeed throughout his career.
“It doesn’t change anything about what I’m doing or trying to accomplish,” Bart said on March 6. “For me, it’s just getting to work. Whatever they put out there is what they put out there. I’m not going to lose sleep over it, I’m not going to worry about it. It’s not going to do me any good. They have their own freedom to say whatever they want to say, and that’s what they said. So for me, it’s keep moving, keep working and trust the process. Keep taking steps to get better.”
The most important steps Bart needed to take to improve was at the plate, and in particular with his plate approach. In his first full season, he had a strikeout rate of 38.5% — fifth highest among batters with at least 150 plate appearances.
Bart appeared to address that weakness, albeit against Cactus League pitching. In the spring, he struck out 11 times while walking five times — a respectable ratio.
Pérez, meanwhile, presents a more veteran option. Pitchers raved about his instincts behind the plate during spring training and he comes with a sterling reputation. Logan Webb, who broke the Giants’ franchise record for strikeouts in an Opening Day start (12), said he only shook Pérez off once all game.
Pérez played just 65 games over the past two years due to injuries. Given he’s 34 years old, it’s unlikely the Giants view him as a true everyday option.
Kapler explained pregame that SF went with Pérez over Bart because of his steady hand in a hostile environment.
“I think Roberto is a calming presence behind the plate,” Kapler said. “On a day like today, it really pays to be kind of easygoing. Joey’s got a lot of those qualities, too, so I don’t want to take that away from him. But I’ll speak specifically to Bebo: calm, a calming presence, makes everybody feel comfortable, we know he’s going to be prepared. The stage is fine for him, nothing is going to overwhelm him. Just felt like the right choice to work with Logan today.”
Last year, while Carlos Rodón worked more frequently with Wynns, Webb stuck with Bart. The Georgia Tech product caught 16 of Webb’s 33 games despite a month-long reset; no other catcher worked with Webb more than nine times.
So, breaking up Webb and Bart on Opening Day seems significant. Where does this leave Bart in the organization’s eyes?
“I couldn’t tell you, man,” Bart said. “I’m just here to help the team whenever they want me. Whenever I’m in the lineup, I’ll be ready to go.”