Will Bart keep his part? He must audition

February 18th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Giants pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Wednesday, manager Gabe Kapler and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi met with catcher to deliver a clear message: Nothing is guaranteed for Bart. He will have to compete for both a roster spot and playing time.

“I don’t think the body of his career has earned a surefire inside track to the No. 1 catching job,” Kapler said. “The only way that happens is through really earning it and making it abundantly clear he should be our starting catcher. But nothing can be given to anybody right now, in that regard.”

The Giants have had high hopes for Bart ever since they took him with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 Draft, but the transition into the post-Buster Posey era has not gone as smoothly as the club envisioned.

Bart, 26, hit .156 with 49 strikeouts over his first 90 at-bats last year before he was sent down to the Minors in early June. He returned to the big leagues one month later and showed improvement after making a swing adjustment. Bart batted .328 in August, but he struggled to sustain his framing in the second half and endured another offensive dip in September.

Now, Bart is in the midst of a wide-open catching competition between him, non-roster invitees and and Rule 5 Draft pick . Despite the uncertainty, Bart is taking the challenge in stride and looking forward to making the necessary improvements to solidify his spot as one of the Giants’ primary backstops.

“I’m coming in every day excited,” Bart said. “Nothing’s ever changed. I’m just trying to put myself in a better position as a player and just moving forward. I’m trying to work as hard as I can to be the best player I can be. That’s really all I can control. That’s where my focus is.”

Bart acknowledged that he dealt with second-half fatigue after catching a career-high 100 games between Triple-A Sacramento and the Majors last year.

“That’s definitely more than I’ve ever caught, which was pretty cool,” Bart said. “It’s something I can put under my belt and work from. But you learn a lot through the dog days late in the season. Figuring out how to get your body ready, figuring out how to use what you have. You’re not always going to have 100% of you, so you’ve got to figure out how to get 100% out of whatever you have that day.”

The Giants felt Bart made good progress in terms of building relationships with pitchers last year, but they would still like to see him strengthen his overall skill set on both sides of the ball. Cutting down on his strikeouts -- his 38.5% strikeout rate was the third-highest mark in the Majors among players with at least 250 plate appearances last year -- will be key, but the Giants also want him to develop into a more consistent defender behind the plate.

“His path to being a regular Major League catcher for us is twofold,” Kapler said. “First, he needs to put the ball in play more. He knows that. And second, I think, he needs to continue to work on his all-around game as a catcher.

“He’s been a good framer at times in his career. He’s very physical, very strong. He manipulates the baseball well with his glove. I don’t think it’s a secret that at times last year he wasn’t able to get his throws off, and that is something that we want him to be more aggressive with, making sure that there’s a very competitive throw as often as possible. That was the feedback that we gave him.”

Bart is trying not to dwell on 2022, but he feels he’ll be better off after learning how to manage the ups and downs of his turbulent rookie season.

“I think at times it was obviously tough, right?” Bart said. “But I’ve kind of gotten over that backwards thinking. Every punch I took – ‘How am I going to react from those?’ That’s the only way you can get better in any sport, figuring out, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ Kind of pick on it and figure out which way I need to move to correct that.

“There are very few guys who can walk in here from Day One and just have it. That's what makes it fun for me and makes me compete and makes me show up here early every day, really ready to go. That's what I'm excited about, taking all the failures that I've had and taking some of the successes that I've had and moving forward.”