The list of non-roster invitees the Giants sent out Friday morning was eye-popping, easily their best in terms of top prospects in over a decade, but there was a notable name missing. Joey Bart didn't have to wait for an invite to big league camp this time because he's already on the 40-man roster, and he already has gotten a taste of what it means to be the everyday catcher at Oracle Park. He also knows that's not where he's headed when he packs his bags in six weeks.
The Giants watched Bart for 33 games last summer and felt even more strongly that they were correct at the end of Spring Training 2.0, when they held Bart off their opening day roster despite the fact that Buster Posey had opted out of the season. Team officials said consistently for a year that Bart needed to continue developing, even as he was tearing up pitching in the Cactus League and showing his skills at the alternate site. That viewpoint was backed by a roster move in January.
The Giants signed veteran Curt Casali to be Posey's backup, ending any thoughts of this spring bringing an open camp competition. A few days before pitchers and catchers officially report to Scottsdale Stadium, manager Gabe Kapler said his roster is just about set from a position player standpoint. He also said he had a "nice talk" with Bart after the Giants signed Casali and praised the way he handled it.
"That conversation was centered around the fact that this is an opportunity for him to go and get really important reps and to develop -- from behind the plate and his game-calling ability, and also work on his swing and his approach at the plate and basically every aspect of his game," Kapler said. "He took a very professional, very accountable position, and feels like this is going to be an opportunity for him to improve and be ready the next time he's called upon at the major league level."
The next step in the development process is easy to see. Nobody is worried about Bart going homer-less in his debut, but he did strike out 41 times in 111 plate appearances and walked just three times. It didn't take long for opposing pitchers to realize they couldn't let Bart extend his arms, and he saw a steady diet of fastballs in and breaking balls in the dirt.
That sent Bart into the offseason with a clear plan, and the Giants will continue to work with him this spring before sending him to Triple-A to start the year. Every rep is going to be an important one for a 24-year-old who had barely played in the minors when he took over a starting job for a team trying to reach the playoffs. Bart has played just 130 minor league games and has only 87 plate appearances above A-ball.
That's very, very little time to react to the discovery of holes in your game, and Bart seemed to appreciate that happening last summer at the big league level. After one particularly rough game in August, he said those kinds of nights can help. "You can say, I can do this or I can do that," Bart said. "That's how you try to get better."
The Giants didn't want to rush Bart last summer but had no choice. Posey opted out and Bart was clearly the best catcher in the camp held at Oracle Park in July. This time around, the front office can afford to be patient.
The Giants brought in Casali, who has seven years of big league experience, and re-signed Chadwick Tromp, who can be a fill-in early in the year if the Giants need a second catcher for a few days. If Bart starts to force the issue at the plate in April, that'll simply be a good problem to have, and much better than the situation all sides dealt with last season.