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Giants 'super high' on Bart, who might start 2021 in minors

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There are times when team executives want to be proven wrong.

When the Giants held Joey Bart off their Opening Day roster and kept him up in Sacramento for the first several weeks of the season, they genuinely felt they were doing the right thing. They didn't think Bart was ready to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues, ignoring the chorus of voices from outside the organization and even the big league clubhouse. 

When Bart finally was called up, you can bet team executives were hoping that maybe he would prove they made a mistake. Maybe he would go out there and look so polished behind the plate, and so powerful behind it, that he would be a key factor in the Giants reaching the playoffs. 

That didn't happen. 

It turns out Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris, Kyle Haines and the rest in player development got this one right. They held off as long as they could, and when they finally called Bart up, he hit .233 in 33 games without a homer. While his throwing was impressive, Bart at times struggled with some of the more difficult pitchers on the staff, most notably Johnny Cueto. There is more development ahead, but that's not to say that 2020 was a failure. 

Bart did get 111 plate appearances and more than 200 innings behind the plate. At 23, he was starting games for a team that nearly made the playoffs. 

 

"He's better-positioned for having a successful big league career for having spent the last month and a half at the big league level," Zaidi said. "And I think it was a really educational experience for him on both sides of the ball." 

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The education will continue, but not necessarily in the big leagues. The Giants will have Buster Posey back as their starting catcher and intend on having Bart follow his every move and get a crash course from one of the best in the game. But that process may be put on pause after seven weeks of spring training -- assuming there is a normal spring. 

Zaidi pointed out that Aramis Garcia will be back from hip surgery and Chadwick Tromp and Tyler Heineman provide depth. He might even look for a veteran backup for the group -- a left-handed hitter would be ideal -- which would guarantee Bart would start the season in Triple-A.

"Getting some help (would) enable Joey to get a little bit more of that development," Zaidi said. "We're super high on him going forward. I think we saw a lot of why he was the second overall pick in the draft a couple of years ago, but again, everything we do is going to be about setting him up for success in the long term."

As the Giants try to set that course, there's a lot that's out of their control. It's unclear what the minor league season will look like, but in a perfect world, they probably would love Bart to start everyday in Triple-A for a few weeks or a couple of months before joining Posey for what -- on paper -- would be an imposing duo. Bart has played just 22 minor league games above A-ball. 

This was a big jump, and while the overall numbers weren't what he hoped, there were a lot of positives. He had a hard-hit percentage of 48.4, leading the team. Bart hit eight balls at least 105 mph, which ranked fourth -- behind Evan Longoria, Alex Dickerson and Brandon Belt -- from the day he was called up. 

"We saw the raw power that he has. He made a lot of really hard contact, hit a lot of balls over 100 mph," Zaidi said. "When he squared the ball up it was really exciting, but clearly there's some work to do in terms of elevating the ball. It's one thing to elevate the ball in A-ball, it's another to be able to do it against Major League pitching.

"Between being able to elevate the ball and refining a little bit of the plate discipline, there's some development left there."

That might be hard to do at the big league level. With a year off, Posey should have fresh legs and an ability to carry a heavy load again. In a conversation with manager Gabe Kapler this week, Posey said he was impressed with what he was seeing from the new hitting coaches, and perhaps they can help him have a similar rebound as Belt or Brandon Crawford. That would give Bart a bit more time to develop, sticking to the original plan. 

 

The Giants never anticipated needing Bart in the middle of a postseason push. But they're glad he was able to get the experience and learn what there still is to work on. 

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"I think that Joey got really valuable experience behind the plate and at the plate," Kapler said. "Openly, it was a mixed bag. There were days when his receiving was on-point and he was fighting for every strike and there were times when I think just mentally the game was going really fast for him. I think he adjusted to the speed of the game as the season matured but I still think it was a challenge all the way through. He was getting to know brand new pitchers, he was also learning an offensive gameplan, and that's a lot for a veteran major leaguer, let alone one that had never experienced even the high levels of the minor leagues consistently. 

"I think there's a lot of development left for Joey. I think he'll tell you that it was a pretty significant struggle at times, and I think there were certainly moments to highlight. He got some big hits for us, demonstrated a really strong arm, and had games that were really good from a receiving standpoint."