Sabol's confident play earning rave reviews
Converted outfielder-turned-catcher impressing coaches, teammates with hot bat
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rule 5 Draft pick Blake Sabol has never lacked confidence as a hitter.
“Honestly, I was a really cocky little kid,” Sabol said, laughing. “My dad would say, ‘Blake, you know why I always thought you were going to make it? Because you’re your own biggest fan.’”
Sabol appears to be winning over more hearts in Giants camp, where he’s emerged as one of the club’s top performers over the first couple weeks of Cactus League play. The 25-year-old converted catcher entered Sunday hitting .529 (9-for-17) with three doubles, seven RBIs and three home runs, tied with outfielder Michael Conforto for the team lead.
Sabol, who swings left-handed, enjoyed his best all-around day at the plate on Saturday, when he went 3-for-3 with a two-run homer and two walks while serving as the Giants’ designated hitter. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound prospect continued to show off rare athleticism for a catcher, stealing second base after laying down a two-out bunt in the first inning and then going first to third after reaching on a single in the third.
“I don’t think you can ever expect anybody to come in and produce the way he’s produced,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Blake is really locked in at the plate right now. This is Spring Training. I think we can appreciate the quality of his plate appearances, how hard he’s hitting the ball. Really, the thing that’s standing out the most is the baserunning. Every ball he hits, he’s running like it’s a regular-season game and the game is on the line. I think that earns a lot of respect from teammates and coaches. He’s showing you a lot of different aspects of his game.”
The Giants brought Sabol into camp to compete for one of two catching spots, but he remains relatively inexperienced behind the plate, where he’s logged only 94 appearances in the Minors. Sabol is likely behind incumbent Joey Bart and veteran Roberto Pérez on the catching depth chart, but another potential path to the Opening Day roster seems to have opened up in recent days.
With Austin Slater (right elbow neuritis) and Mitch Haniger (Grade 1 left oblique strain) slowed by injuries this spring, Kapler said Sabol could start getting looks in the outfield, where he played before converting to catcher.
“That’s something I’ve always kept in the back pocket,” Sabol said. “The defensive versatility that helps me get in the lineup and stuff. If I’m able to get in there that way, I’m happy to do it. I got a brand new, cool-looking outfield glove that I’m excited to use. … It’s not like it’s a new thing. I don’t think it’s going to be too big of an adjustment.”
Given his Rule 5 Draft stipulations -- he’ll have to be kept on the 26-man roster for the entire season or offered back to the Pirates -- the Giants will be incentivized to create as many avenues as possible for Sabol to stick. While he’s drawn praise for his framing and receiving, Sabol is still working on honing his overall catching skills -- particularly his ability to control the running game -- and remains liable to rocky days like Friday, when he was charged with catcher’s interference.
While he’s continuing to develop behind the plate, the Giants have been pleased with the progress Sabol has shown thus far.
“Definitely positive feedback across the board,” Kapler said. “He’s not going to get outworked. When you have somebody that’s not going to be outworked, you get instant respect from pitchers. While he’s the least experienced of the group behind the plate, he’s as hard-working as anybody, and that allows you to catch up.”
“Guys have been raving about throwing to him,” veteran right-hander Alex Cobb said. “His setup, his demeanor and confidence as a catcher -- I’ve been really impressed with him.”
• Slater made his spring debut in the Giants’ 4-3 win over the A’s on Sunday afternoon at Scottsdale Stadium, going 0-for-3 with a walk as the club’s DH. Kapler said Slater will have to complete a throwing progression before he’ll be cleared to return to the outfield.
• Right-hander Ross Stripling, who returned to Giants camp this weekend following the birth of his second son, Brodie, in Texas on Monday, gave up two runs on five hits over 3 1/3 innings in his third appearance of the spring.
• Infielder Brett Wisely also got his first career start in center field on Sunday. Wisely has appeared in three games in left in the Minors, but the Giants have been impressed by the natural instincts he’s shown while doing outfield drills in camp.
“I think there’s less track record of outfield work, but there’s a lot of athleticism and transferable characteristics from the work he’s done in the infield to go out in the outfield,” Kapler said.