Inbox: Where do Giants start Bart in 2021?

Beat reporter Maria Guardado fields questions from fans

January 8th, 2021

Happy New Year! In the first Giants Inbox of 2021, we’ll discuss what the Curt Casali signing means for top prospect Joey Bart, the club’s standing in the National League West in 2021 and beyond, and potential left-handed starting pitching options. Let’s get started:

What are ’s prospects for beginning the 2021 season with the big league squad with the signings of Casali and [Chadwick] Tromp? Should we expect Bart to start the season in the Minors considering the competition for the backup catcher’s role?
-- @eloyont via Twitter

Barring injury, I think the Casali signing indicates that the Giants will almost certainly start Bart in the Minors in 2021. Bart’s struggles after debuting last year made it clear that he could benefit from additional development, so Casali and Tromp should give the Giants enough catching depth to keep them from having to rush Bart back to the Majors next season.

The Giants asked a lot of the 24-year-old Bart after installing him as their starting catcher in August, as he had never played above Double-A Richmond and arrived at the big leagues without a veteran catcher to lean on after Buster Posey elected to sit out the season. While his throwing and raw power were impressive, Bart underwhelmed at the plate, batting .233 with 41 strikeouts and three walks over 111 plate appearances, and had occasional communication breakdowns with pitchers, most notably Johnny Cueto.

Despite those growing pains, the Giants remain high on Bart, who was the second overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft, and believe that he’ll be better positioned to succeed as a result of the lessons he learned during his first jaunt in the Majors. With Posey, Casali and Tromp on the 40-man roster, Bart might have to force his way back to San Francisco in 2021, but he’s certainly talented enough to do that.

With the Dodgers and San Diego being quite active this offseason and getting seemingly stronger and deeper with each transaction, do the Giants have any hope at all to reasonably compete against these two fellow NL West clubs in 2021 and the years to come? In practical terms, what really could they do to become a contender in a division with such likely powerhouses?
-- Ray G.

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There was already a talent deficit separating the Giants from the Dodgers and Padres, and I think the gulf definitely widened with San Diego’s acquisitions of Yu Darvish and Blake Snell this offseason. Assuming the expanded playoff format doesn’t return in 2021, it’s hard to see the Giants cracking a postseason field that will be widely expected to include the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, Mets and whoever wins the NL Central.

The short-term outlook doesn’t seem great for San Francisco, but the club might not be as far away from contending as you might think. There’s a wave of promising position players on the way, led by shortstop Marco Luciano, and once that talent begins to crest at the Majors in the next couple of years, I think the Giants will begin to flex their financial resources and complement their next homegrown core with external acquisitions. Don’t forget: Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Posey and Cueto will all be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2021 season, giving the Giants the payroll flexibility to make a big splash via trade or the free-agent market and level up quickly, much like the Padres did.

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi’s directive has always been to build the Giants back into a perennial contender, but that process doesn’t happen overnight. Their division rivals won’t make it easier, but I think the Giants are heading in the right direction. Just be prepared for a little more patience.

40-man roster now with four catchers and zero left-handed starting pitchers. Any word on any potential signing or trade for a LH SP?
-- @johnnyfromnj via Twitter

I’d be surprised if the Giants opened the season without at least one left-handed starting option, so I think they’ll try to recoup some depth here, even if it’s on a Minor League deal. With Andrew Suárez jumping to the KBO, is the only lefty on the 40-man roster with starting experience in the Majors, and he was used out of the rotation only three times in 2019.

The Giants have had success buying low on bounce-back candidates in recent years, so they might be drawn to someone like , a former All-Star with the White Sox who threw only 10 innings in an injury-riddled 2020 campaign. , another former All-Star who knows Zaidi from his days with the Dodgers, and are two other potential free-agent fits.

I was wondering which reliever on the roster today has the lead in the race for the closer job? Will it be one man's job or a committee?
-- Aaron P.

I think the Giants would love to have a reliever earn the closer job rather than have to rely on a committee like last year. They have a potential candidate in right-hander , who appeared to be the Giants’ closer of the future before missing the 2020 season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Manager Gabe Kapler said he and pitching coach Andrew Bailey have spoken with Moronta, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 265 pounds, and challenged him to come into Spring Training in peak physical condition and re-establish himself as a key late-innings weapon out of the bullpen.

“We believe he has an opportunity to be key to our bullpen next year,” Kapler said in December. “We know how talented he is. He's totally healthy now, so we're asking for our players to come in great shape.”

If Moronta can return to his pre-surgery form, I think he’ll be a guy who the Giants will depend on to close out the ninth. If he experiences a dip in performance, the Giants will need another reliever to step in and help fill that void.