Giants' crowded crop of backstops in focus
Blake Sabol, Roberto Pérez among worthy options for Opening Day roster
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants have a catching problem. Lucky for them, it’s a good problem.
With Opening Day less than two weeks away, the Giants have some difficult decisions to make behind the plate. Roberto Pérez, Joey Bart, Blake Sabol and Austin Wynns are all competing for an undetermined number of catching spots.
Bart and Wynns offer familiarity, with Bart having spent the past three seasons with the Giants and Wynns catching 57 games (43 starts) for San Francisco last year -- not to mention his two-year overlap with starter Alex Cobb in Baltimore.
Pérez brings experience and “expertise.” An eight-year Major League veteran and two-time Gold Glove Award winner, Pérez caught a talented staff in Cleveland before signing a Minor League deal with the Giants on Feb. 6.
And then there’s Sabol, a Rule 5 Draft pick and natural outfielder who has been getting looks behind the plate and in the outfield this spring.
With Pérez and Sabol being new to the team, the focus this spring has been on getting them reps with the Major League rotation and building their confidence.
In 2019, Pérez ranked fourth in the Majors with a 51.8% strike rate. The following year in a shortened '20 season, Pérez was 12th, with 51.2 percent. The main concern with Pérez is durability, as he was limited to 21 games last season after undergoing season-ending left hamstring surgery in May, after battling injuries throughout '21.
"I’ve thrown to him twice this spring," Cobb said, "and it’s been a few times where I’ve been able to maybe expand the zone a little bit or throw some high-quality pitch shapes that you can flirt between, ‘I’m going to try and get this to be a swing-and-miss pitch in this area,’ and you’re not expecting those to be called strikes. He’s able to frame it and make it look like a strike."
If he can stay healthy, Pérez can give the Giants a veteran presence behind the dish.
"He’s been great with our pitching staff," bullpen and catching coach Craig Albernaz said. "He listens extremely well, meaning that, when the pitchers want him to execute something, we want him to execute something, he’s able to go out there and execute for us. Sometimes with veteran catchers they have a lot of other organizations that they know, so it’s tough to kind of get past that. But he’s great at doing that in-game."
On the other side of the veteran spectrum is 25-year-old Sabol, who has yet to make his big league debut. Despite some early hiccups as he gets used to the Major League staff, Sabol is impressing at camp, with his ability to take in information and translate it to game situations standing out.
"I think the first thing that I notice is his ability to communicate and his confidence in who he is as a player,” Cobb said. “I think that everything that you get to know about him, he has all the qualities that it’s going to take to elevate his game to be a very good big league catcher."
Even when he’s not behind the plate, Sabol has found himself getting into Cactus League play via the outfield (two starts) or at designated hitter (three starts). In 14 spring games through Sunday, Sabol is slashing .344/.488/.719 with a 1.207 OPS. In 2022, Sabol hit .284 with 19 homers and an .860 OPS in 123 games across two levels (Double-A and Triple-A).
“I think he’s worked really hard and done well,” starter Alex Wood said. “Still young. The more we throw to each other and I think across the board with everybody, the better he’ll be. But I think he’s done a good job. … Hopefully he keeps swinging it the way he has and just continues to learn as we go, and I think he’ll do fine.”
No matter which combination of catchers the Giants settle on -- with injuries at other positions and Sabol’s flexibility, there’s a good chance they carry more than two -- the staff feels that the team can’t go wrong with its four talented options.
“It’s been cool to be a part of, and to kind of see these four interact has been cool,” Albernaz said. “They’re kind of setting the culture standing around here with guys. How they go about their business, their work ethic, in-game, all that stuff. And the guys see it, so the team and the pitching staff have been feeding off it.”