The SF Giants will enter spring training with much of the lineup set in stone. That said, Giants manager Gabe Kapler has indicated that catcher will be an open competition (subscription required) according to Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. This seems like a challenge to the incumbent, Joey Bart, but how realistic of a competition will the Giants actually have in camp?
Do the SF Giants have a legitimate open competition at catcher this spring?
Sure, Kapler is saying all the right things by openly declaring that catcher is an open competition. Bart has not necessarily earned the role with his performance.
In his first truly full season, the right-handed bat slashed .215/.296/.364 (86 OPS+) with 11 home runs, 25 RBI, and 34 runs in 291 plate appearances. This includes a 38.5 percent strikeout rate against an 8.9 percent walk rate.
Bart has struggled to find consistency at the plate. There were moments where it looked like he was about to breakout as he posted an .888 OPS in 62 plate appearances in August last year but he followed that up with a .480 OPS in 63 plate appearances in the final month of the season. These are small samples, but it highlights the roller coaster of a season it was for Bart.
Plus, Bart's defense graded out poorly last year. According to Baseball Prospectus' Catcher Defensive Adjustment (CDA), the 26-year-old was worth -3.2 CDA, which was the worst mark among Giants catchers. This was due in part to poor pitch framing, but his blocking and throwing were considered below average as well.
By the end of the season, Austin Wynns had become the preferred option for both Carlos Rodón and Logan Webb. The front office quietly searched for an upgrade at catcher this winter and inked Roberto Pérez to a minor league deal while trading for Blake Sabol, who is in camp as a Rule 5 pick.
Wynns remains in the organization as a depth option and he is joined by Patrick Bailey, Brett Cumberland, Andy Thomas, and Ricardo Genovés as non-roster invitees. The chances of any of these five making it onto the 40-man roster are not great.
That leaves Pérez, Sabol, Bart. The latter two options are the only two backstops on the 40-man roster, so they have the inside track. However, Pérez has the reputation as a strong defensive receiver so he brings something different to the table.
So, is there an open competition at catcher? Realistically, it will likely end up being some combination of Bart and Pérez as the two top catching options on the Opening Day roster. Pérez has only played in over 100 games just once in his nine major league seasons. This includes a stretch of only 97 games over the past three years.
Could Pérez push Bart for playing time? Absolutely. He has the defensive acumen that will appeal to Giants pitchers. Though, he has rarely produced with the bat. If Bart's bat struggles as well, Pérez could very well begin to see more playing time if his offensive contributions are comparable.
On the other hand, Sabol could make the Opening Day roster, but he only has 101 plate appearances above Double-A so it is a bit of an uphill battle. The Giants could begin the season with him on the roster. He is a left-handed-hitting catcher, meaning he would be a natural complement to either Bart or Pérez.
As a Rule 5 pick, Sabol will need to hit early and often to stick. He cannot be optioned to Triple-A without being exposed to waivers. If he gives the Giants leverage against right-handed pitching, it is possible that he carves out a role.
So, the open competition for catcher will likely be Bart, Sabol, and Pérez. Sabol has limited experience in the upper minors and Pérez has rarely been healthy enough to stay on the field. Either one could grab playing time in the early going with a strong camp.
However, it still feels like Bart has the inside track. They may be calling it an open competition, but it feels like that is a ploy to motivate Bart. The job is his to lose. He has not necessarily earned that, but it is hard to envision any other catcher being a definitively better alternative on paper at the moment.