Back in July, Evan Longoria made no secret of the fact he felt Joey Bart should be on the Giants' opening day roster, leading the parade of players who joined Zoom calls with reporters during summer camp and either directly or indirectly lobbied on behalf of the top prospect. On Sunday, after that season came to an end with a disappointing loss, Longoria again spoke up in favor of Bart, who was called up in mid-August and played 33 up-and-down games.
"I was really excited to have Joey up here," Longoria said. "There was nothing to gain being in the alternate camp."
It was, in some ways, a disappointing debut. Bart did have better plate appearances late in the year, but overall he hit .233 and did not homer in 103 at-bats. While he mostly got good reviews defensively, his issues catching Johnny Cueto were notable, and it certainly stood out when the Giants paired Tyler Heineman, not Bart, with Cueto for the penultimate game of the season.
Asked to sum up what he saw from Bart, Longoria paused and searched for the right words. He said Bart was "lacking a little bit of" before trailing off, then started to say what Bart "needed to have" before pausing again. Finally, Longoria hit the nail on the head.
"I mean, he really needed Buster here, let's be honest," Longoria said.
Bart went through a second spring training with Posey and was expected to back him up this season. But when the shortened season started right as the Poseys were expecting twins born prematurely, the starting catcher rightfully opted out. Not a single Giant, publicly or privately, has questioned that decision. But there was no doubt that the Giants missed their leader in the playoff chase, and their next franchise catcher certainly could have used more guidance.
"Buster would have, I think, really helped him deal with things on a day-to-day basis, and I told Buster this a couple weeks ago," Longoria said. "I think Buster made the right decision. Your family always has to come first and I didn't say it to Buster to make him feel bad or to make him think that he made the wrong decision. But, you can't expect a guy to know everything when he first comes up here and Joey was trying to work through a lot of things . As a young player (in Tampa Bay), I had other veteran infielders that could really help me get through some situations.
"In a year like this year, where everybody was separated and it wasn't a normal year where you could have a close-knit clubhouse, I think sometimes he felt isolated. He felt like he was trying to figure out a lot of things on his own."
As fans clamored for Bart to be included on the roster, particularly when Posey opted out, the Giants internally worried about his lack of experience. Team executives saw much of this coming, but Bart also was their best option behind the plate. Between the work farm director Kyle Haines did in Sacramento and the daily teaching from Craig Albernaz at the big league level, Bart did have guidance, but as Longoria pointed out, it's not the same as following the lead of a veteran.
When Longoria was Rookie of the Year with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, he joined a team that had veterans like Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and Eric Hinske on the roster. Bart spent his season leading the way behind the plate with a 25-year-old backup (Chadwick Tromp) also playing in the big leagues for the first time. This isn't at all how the Giants planned it, but it was unavoidable in 2020.
There are two huge silver linings to all of this, of course. Posey's new daughters are healthy, and the catcher will return next season to join Bart. It's unclear how the Giants will divide playing time, but given the offensive resurgence of fellow veterans like Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, you can expect Gabe Kapler to give Posey every opportunity to regain his firm grip on the starting spot.
The Giants will have to decide if Bart -- who struck out 41 times and walked three -- needs more at-bats in Triple-A, if those are even available. If not, he can spend every day in the big leagues, soaking up knowledge from Posey and trying to build off a rookie season where he at least managed to get over 100 crucial at-bats, 27 starts behind the plate, and a look at high-intensity September baseball.
"I think it was a really good year for him learning wise, but I look for a lot of growth from him next year in being able to be around Buster in the spring," Longoria said. "And (he can) just really take the next step."