SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- From the moment he was taken with the second overall pick of the 2018 Draft, Joey Bart has been viewed as Buster Posey’s heir apparent. With Posey announcing his retirement in November, Bart finally is poised to succeed the franchise icon behind the plate and begin a new era in San Francisco.
“I’m really excited,” Bart said Sunday as the Giants reported to Scottsdale Stadium for the first official day of Spring Training. “I’m just so excited to be here and be back around everyone. Today was the first day. I felt great. We got a little bit of a taste of some things, and things will obviously speed up here fast. I’m fired up, I’m ready to work.”
Long viewed as one of the best catching prospects in the game, Bart stumbled in his first stint in the Majors in 2020, when he was thrust into the starting role with the Giants after Posey elected to sit out the pandemic-shortened season. Bart’s inexperience showed, as he hit .233 with no home runs and 41 strikeouts over 103 at-bats and struggled to get on the same page with a few pitchers, notably veteran Johnny Cueto.
“I think there’s obviously a learning curve,” said Bart, who turned 25 on Dec. 15 but still ranks as the Giants' No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. “There’s nothing like the big leagues. To an extent, you’re not going to get ready to play in the big leagues until you’re in the big leagues.”
Recognizing that Bart needed more time to develop, the Giants signed Curt Casali to serve as Posey’s backup last year, allowing Bart to spend most of the season at Triple-A Sacramento. Bart hit .294 with an .830 OPS and 10 home runs over 67 games. He appeared in only two Major League games in 2021, but the Giants felt they saw significant growth from him, particularly in his game-calling and his ability to build relationships with pitchers.
“He’s already done a really nice job over the last calendar year of improving his preparation and improving his game-calling,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “His trustworthiness has dramatically improved over the last two calendar years. That’s through the work that’s done. That’s a really good start. Guys who he caught last year in Triple-A were emphatic in their praise and their trust in Joey, so I think it’s just continued development.”
Said right-hander Logan Webb: “I love Joey. He’s going to be awesome. I’m so excited for him. I know he’s super excited.”
The transition from Posey to Bart wasn’t expected to be this abrupt, but Bart said he’s grateful for the time he got to spend around the seven-time All-Star. While he’ll miss having his fellow Georgia native around, Bart also understands that Posey’s decision to step away has created an opportunity for him to step in and seize the role he’s been waiting for.
“At the end of the day, I got drafted into a team where Buster Posey was the catcher,” Bart said. “There’s a lot of pros to that. I learned a lot. But at the end of the day, it was always his job, and it was always his time to choose how long he wanted to play. All I could do was sit back and try to soak up as much as I could and learn so that maybe one time when I had an opportunity, I could pounce on it.”
Bart said he knows Posey will always be a phone call away, though he’ll have another veteran catcher to lean on in Casali, who is also expected to compete for time behind the plate this year. Casali, 33, hit .210 with a .663 OPS and five homers over 77 games last year, but he drew rave reviews for his defense and guided the Giants to a 43-12 mark in games he started.
“We view it as some kind of time-share between those two,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “It'll be determined by health and performance in camp. We see everyday catcher upside with Joey, but having a tandem with somebody like Curt that we have trust in gives us some flexibility to make adjustments to what that time-share looks like, depending on how Joey comes along.”
Bart said he feels more comfortable coming into Giants camp now compared to two years ago, especially since he already has rapport with many of his teammates. He spent the offseason in the Atlanta area, where he caught left-hander Alex Wood’s bullpen sessions once or twice a week. He’ll have to learn to manage the rest of the Giants’ pitching staff this spring, but he’s ready to embrace the challenge.
“I think every year you grow,” Bart said. “You have to. You either grow or someone outgrows you. You have to keep adapting and building relationships. At the end of the day, I don’t play a position where I don’t really have to worry about anything other than hitting. I’m so locked in on what’s going on. I have to be. It’s my job. Any conversations I can have with guys trying to figure out what’s going to make them the best are the ones I want to have.”