SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants are returning a 13-person coaching staff that ranks as the largest in the Majors this season, but for top catching prospect Joey Bart, the most impactful instructor just might be one of his teammates: Buster Posey.
“It's good to see him back,” Bart said of Posey, who sat out the 2020 season due to pandemic-related health concerns. “We missed him. It's great to have him. He's just got so much knowledge. The things he says, it's never for waste. ... Everyone kind of listens in when Buster starts talking.”
Bart benefited from having Posey as a resource during his first big league camp with the Giants last spring, but he lacked a veteran catcher to lean on after making his highly anticipated Major League debut in August. After watching Bart endure significant growing pains last year, third baseman Evan Longoria said he thought the 24-year-old rookie had been hurt by Posey’s absence.
“He really needed Buster here, let's be honest,” Longoria said at the end of last season. “I think sometimes he felt isolated. He felt like he was trying to figure out a lot of things on his own. I think it was a really good year for him learning-wise. I’d look for a lot of growth from him next year, being able to be around Buster in the spring and just really take the next step.”
Despite finishing the 2020 season as the Giants’ everyday catcher, Bart isn’t expected to be on the club’s roster on Opening Day, as he currently finds himself behind Posey and newcomer Curt Casali on the catching depth chart. The plan is for Bart to start the season at Triple-A Sacramento, where the Giants believe he’ll be able to log the reps he needs to continue to push forward his development this year.
Bart, who is ranked No. 23 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list, returned home to Georgia over the offseason and said he focused on improving his lower-body flexibility and the fluidity of his hips, which he believes will help his stances and his transitions behind the plate.
After batting .233 with no home runs, 41 strikeouts and three walks over 33 games last year, Bart also spent time working on his swing. Opposing pitchers frequently exploited Bart’s weakness on the inside of the plate, and he suggested he was trying to do too much instead of sticking to his game plan each night.
Manager Gabe Kapler said one of the areas of emphasis for Bart this spring will be to work on identifying early pitches that he can drive and being aggressive on those offerings.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger, and I’ve cleaned some things up,” Bart said. “I had a great offseason, just kind of got my mind prepared for what was coming this spring.”
Lincecum a ‘special pitcher’ for Yamaguchi
New right-hander Shun Yamaguchi spent the first 14 years of his career pitching in Japan, but he’s familiar with recent Giants history and said he’s a big fan of franchise icons Barry Bonds and Tim Lincecum. There are some similarities between Lincecum's and Yamaguchi’s arsenal, as Lincecum was known for his changeup and Yamaguchi relies heavily on his splitter.
"He's definitely a special pitcher in my eyes," Yamaguchi said through interpreter Yuto Sakurai. "Moving forward, I would like to study a little bit more about him."
Yamaguchi, 33, said he had an opportunity to return to Japan after he was released by the Blue Jays earlier this month, but he said he was motivated to prove that he could succeed in the Majors after logging an 8.06 ERA over 17 relief appearances in 2020, his first season in the United States. He signed a Minor League deal with the Giants this week and is expected to compete for a spot on the pitching staff as either a starter or a reliever.
Yamaguchi’s contract includes an assignment clause that will allow him to explore opportunities with other teams if he isn’t added to the Giants’ 40-man roster, so he figures to get a serious look from club officials this spring. He said he believes he’ll be more comfortable now that he knows what to expect during Spring Training and beyond.
"Last year I wasn't satisfied with my result," Yamaguchi said. "I want to challenge myself once again and during the offseason I was preparing myself intensely to perform better this year."
Managers traditionally hold team meetings ahead of the first full-squad workout of the spring, but Kapler said he kept his remarks short on Monday.
“My general message is: We’re going to be efficient and not spend a whole lot of time in meetings,” Kapler said.
Kapler said he emphasized the importance of remaining as distanced as possible in accordance with the health and safety protocols and gave an overview of what camp will look like this spring. He also promised his players transparency. Kapler said he plans to invite players into his office and answer any questions about their standing in the lineup or on the organizational depth chart.
“One thing that players historically say is they want to know where they stand. Second thing they say is, they want to be shot straight -- they want to be told the truth,” Kapler said. “So one way to do that is just to open it up."