Friday not only marks Opening Day for the Giants, it also will kick off a whole new era of a baseball in the Bay Area. Buster Posey has hung up his cleats, and it finally is time for Joey Bart to take the reins and be the man in charge behind the plate.
Bart was selected by the Giants with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. With Posey opting out of the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, Bart made his major league debut in August of that year, but it was premature and he wasn't quite ready for the big leagues yet. He played only three games with the Giants last season and had a good but not great year in Triple-A, batting .294 with 10 home runs and an .831 OPS over 67 games while being sidelined by injuries at times.
Curiously enough, the Giants took a catcher with their top pick again just two years after going with Bart. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, who wasn't with San Francisco when Bart was the Giants' top pick, targeted Patrick Bailey of North Carolina State and snagged him at No. 13 overall in 2020. Bailey's first minor league season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Giants skipped Low-A with him and started him off at High-A Eugene last year to begin his professional career.
That backfired, at first.
Bailey hit .185 in High-A over 33 games. After a short stint in the Arizona Complex League, he returned to Low-A San Jose and looked like a star, hitting .322 with seven home runs and a .947 OPS in 47 games before also having a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Bailey will begin the 2022 season in Eugene, and Bart is slated to be the Giants' Opening Day catcher in San Francisco.
Coming into this season, every major outlet has Bart as one of the Giants' top three prospects and well ahead of Bailey -- except for one. FanGraphs has Bailey ranked as the Giants' third-best prospect, and Bart down at No. 6. NBC Sports Bay Area spoke with Tess Taruskin of FanGraphs to talk about their rankings, if the two catchers can co-exist and more.
Dalton Johnson: What part of Joey Bart's game do you like the most?
Tess Taruskin: I like his power, when he gets to it. I think that's kind of the easy answer, that's the part of his game that's sort of unimpeachable. It's a matter of whether he can get to it and whether it's enough to find at-bats for him, even if it's not at catcher. Although for now, it looks like it will be at catcher for the foreseeable future, until Patrick Bailey catches up to him with his progress in terms of where he's at in his development. The power is what really stands out in terms of picking apart his performance.
Same question with Patrick Bailey. What area of his game stands out the most to you?
For him, it's the bat. It's almost like they're yin and yang in the box. Bailey, obviously a switch-hitter with a somewhat different approach from either side of the plate, but a solid contact-driven approach from both sides with the additional ability to add power to that profile. But it's not the power that's propping up the profile.
His switch-hitting and his ability to make contact is really the shining area of his overall profile.
What changed for Bailey after such a tough start in Eugene and then being so great in San Jose?
I think it's really more about what was hampering him earlier in the season. He started at the higher level up in Eugene, which was an aggressive start for a pro debut, even though he did so well at the alternative site in Sacramento in 2020. That's still really challenging him and he was challenged by it. That combination of adrenaline that a lot of guys get when they first step onto a pro field and they're overswinging -- or in a pitcher's case, overthrowing -- I think that applies to those early days.
I also think the fact that he took time off for a back injury after that start probably means he was playing through some back discomfort, and I think that was evident in his swing. It wasn't as rotationally explosive as it should have been, could have been and was later in the season. He just wasn't rotating very well in his lower body with those earlier swings. Then he went down to the complex for a little bit, tinkered with it there and then went up to San Jose and it was a little bit of a rolling start. When he came back, he was kind of firing on all cylinders like he hadn't been earlier in the season.
In my opinion, it's not so much that he made a huge change. It's more so that he began playing to his capacity in a way that he wasn't earlier in the season.
Time for the big question. You guys are the only major outlet that I've seen have Patrick Bailey ranked ahead of Joey Bart. What's the overall reasoning? Or maybe it's one or two things that separates Bailey from Bart.
The major thing is the length of his runway still. It's all very unfair to Joey Bart, I got to say. He was asked to do something that was unrealistic and would have been a huge plus had he been able to perform in 2020 at the big league level. But no one should have expected him to do so and fit right in, and he didn't. I think as a result, that added a lot of detours to his overall development, the road map of his development. It seems like they're being careful of that in that regard with Bailey, in that they're giving him the time to fine-tune his approach -- as evidenced by starting him at the higher level and letting him get more at-bats at a lower level to gain that confidence. You have to assume the confidence piece is some part of the Joey Bart equation as well.
I think the biggest difference as far as them being prospects and where it lies right now is the approach. It's not just that Joey Bart is swinging and missing a lot, it's that he's swinging at stuff that he shouldn't be swinging at. I think the swing decisions are more problematic than the misses themself, whereas Patrick Bailey has a very refined and mature-beyond-his-experience approach at the plate in terms of the walk rate and the strikeouts, keeping those down. I think that by itself is a lot more to be able to hang your hat on with Patrick Bailey as an overall big leaguer, eventually.
How much of an influence do you think the fact that Farhan Zaidi drafted Bailey but not Bart could have on their paths going forward?
It's really hard not to assume that Zaidi prefers the guy that he had a hand in choosing, or had more of an idea in where he wanted to place him and wasn't just more of an inherited piece. If you're going to inherit a piece, there are worse pieces to inherit than Joey Bart -- let's be clear. I really don't think that's a huge part of it, but I do think Zaidi is the kind of guy who has a big picture in mind and I think when he drafts, it's toward that big picture in mind and nothing is accidental. So the fact that he did that so soon after Joey Bart was drafted, even back then, probably indicated somewhat of a regime-related paradigm shift.
But I don't know. I think it's a little unfair to hang too much on that, because front office personnel are constantly turning over and it's not like there's nobody in there from when Joey Bart was drafted. It's certainly a part of it, but I don't think it's a major part of it.
With the DH coming to the NL and either prospect possibly being able to play some first base, do you think their futures will be together? Or will a trade have to happen?
Personally, I think that they would trade one of them. I think that they're sort of building around Patrick Bailey, just because of the way they handled him last year and like you said, him being a Farhan Zaidi piece. So with that in mind, it might indicate that Bart is the better trade piece, and our rankings indicate that might make more sense. There isn't much reason to keep them both, unless one of them converts. And there's not a ton of reason to convert them.
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It really could go a number of ways. There's reason to justify keeping them both, there's a reason to justify trading one of them. I personally believe it's going to go the trade direction for Joey Bart.
To switch it up, is there one Giants prospect that you think could surprise us or that fans should know more of?
Jairo Pomares had such an incredible season last year. The momentum for him is just insane. He's an interesting person to look at next to Luis Toribio in a lot of ways, just because last season Pomares had a season where everything broke in his direction and Toribio had a season where everything broke bad for him. They're at such similar places in their development that that is interesting. But Pomares is definitely the one on the upswing. It would be really exciting to see him carry that. We, for a while, really thought that he was just overperforming. The fact that he was able to extend his ability to overperform to a point where you're like, 'OK, well maybe this is just how he performs,' is really exciting. That's something to definitely keep an eye on.
I actually saw on your Twitter, you probably agree with this, but Brett Auerbach -- I love that guy. I watched just a compilation of him catching in college and it's so much fun even to just watch him throw down to second base.