SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants’ shortage of upper-level catching options forced them to stick with rookie Joey Bart, even as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 Draft continued to strike out at an alarming rate. That changed Wednesday, when they demoted the struggling Bart to Triple-A Sacramento and acquired veteran backstop Austin Wynns from the Phillies.
The Giants sent left-hander Michael Plassmeyer and cash considerations to the Phillies to land Wynns, who was selected to the roster ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Rockies. To clear a spot for Wynns on the 40-man roster, the Giants designated infielder Kevin Padlo for assignment.
Bart was expected to succeed Buster Posey as the Giants’ everyday catcher this year, but the 25-year-old spiraled into an offensive rut over the first two months of the season, batting .156/.296/.300 with 49 strikeouts over 108 plate appearances. He lost the starting job to Curt Casali last month and was only 2-for-25 over his last 14 games, prompting the Giants to send him down to the Minors for a mental reset.
“Obviously, we still believe in Joey and think he can be a frontline Major League catcher for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The number one message is that he has some adjustments that he needs to make. In the conversations with him, he was incredibly accountable. He’s grown a lot. The professionalism is really coming out of him. Even in these conversations, he’s very honest and even vulnerable to some degree. I think he certainly gets it and knows he has some mechanical adjustments to make. We’re going to get right to work with that.”
Kapler said the Giants would like to see Bart even out his shoulders and hips, as well as have more of a gather on his front side to help him cut down on some of the swing-and-miss in his game and tap into more of his right-handed power. The first order of action, though, will be to give Bart a bit of a breather following one of the more challenging stretches of his young career.
“It doesn’t matter how tough you are,” Kapler said. “If you’re fighting to survive every single day, day in and out, and you’re trying to establish yourself as a Major League player, it’s going to take its toll. It’s not to say that he’s not mentally tough enough to handle it, but a lot of Major Leaguers struggle to find their stride immediately. It takes some time. We’re going to hang in there and be patient with Joey and support him through this.”
Kapler said it’s too early to say how much time Bart will need in the Minors to get his swing back on track. For now, the Giants will move forward with Casali and Wynns, who is expected to catch Logan Webb in Thursday afternoon’s series finale against the Rockies.
Wynns, a member of the same Orioles Draft class as Mike Yastrzemski in 2013, has hit .216 with a .580 OPS over parts of three seasons in the Majors, but he enjoyed a hot start with the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate at Lehigh Valley this year, batting .365/.504/.500 with three home runs over 33 games. Wynns drew more walks (28) than strikeouts (18) over 104 plate appearances, showcasing the ability to control the strike zone, which Bart had struggled to do.
“That’s a strike-zone dominance thing,” Kapler said of Wynns. “Does it mean that it’s going to immediately translate to the Major League level? That’s not likely, but that’s a major component of all this. The strikeout-to-walk ratio. That means you’re making good decisions in the batter’s box, you’re putting the ball in play consistently, and you’re not likely to be overmatched when you come to this level.”
A right-handed hitter, Wynns said he worked with Triple-A Lehigh Valley hitting coach Joe Thurston to simplify his approach, which he felt helped him have more success at the plate this year. The San Diego native admitted that he was “shocked” when he got the call informing him that he’d been traded to the Giants, though he said he’s looking forward to being back on the West Coast and taking advantage of the opportunity with his new club.
“I’m ecstatic,” Wynns said. “I’m really happy to be here. I was shocked, but happy all at once. It was a whirlwind of events.”