Entering Tuesday, Joey Bart is batting .233 for the SF Giants with nine home runs and 19 RBI in nearly 200 plate appearances. He has trudged back to the dugout after a strikeout a whopping 77 times - more than one-third of his chances with.
Those numbers don't inspire much confidence in his ability to help the team offensively. Amazingly, that's a marked improvement over where he was in early-June, when the front office made the decision to send him back to Triple-A Sacramento to try to find a solution.
After being selected by the SF Giants with the second overall pick in the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft, Bart was widely seen as the heir apparent to Buster Posey as the team's catcher of the future.
Bart was expected to have more power but hit for less average than Posey, as well as being slightly less of a defender. That still was considered plenty enough to be a starter and occasional All-Star for many years.
After two years in the minors, Bart was thrust into the big club's starting role in 2020, when Posey opted out of playing during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season to protect his adopted premature newborn twin daughters.
Bart was at the alternate site for almost half of the season, but when Farhan Zaidi and co. decided Chadwick Tromp and Tyler Heineman weren't the answer behind the plate they called on their then-#2 prospect. Bart didn't take the world by storm but he held his own in a weird season, hitting .233 in 111 plate appearances. He doubled in each of his first three games and twice more in one game in September, adding a pair of triples along the way, but he never hit a home run.
That season, it was obvious Bart was keeping the position warm for Buster Posey. Sure enough, Posey returned for 2021 and had a resurgent season, garnering his seventh All-Star nod and second Comeback Player of the Year award while leading the Giants to a franchise-record 107 wins and the NL West title.
How slack the rope was is up for debate. Maybe Bart felt it taut, ready to pull him back at any sign of failure. After all, Posey's serviceable backup, Curt Casali, was offered a contract instead of being cut loose. Casali wasn't a big threat at the plate, but he handled the pitching staff extremely well when filling on Posey's days off - even catching five consecutive shutouts in his starts early on in the season.
So at the beginning of the 2022 season Bart may have been looking over his shoulder, wondering when he'd be replaced, or playing tentatively in fear of too many mistakes. Maybe that's why he was demoted to Sacramento after an 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on June 4 that dropped his batting average to .156 and his OPS under .600.
Bart played just seven games with Sacramento, hitting .286. The big club had replaced him with trade acquisition Austin Wynns, who shared duties with Casali.
What has changed for Bart and the SF Giants?
And then Casali got hurt. On the Fourth of July he was removed from the game with an oblique strain after taking a swing. An oblique injury can sideline a player for over a month, and Casali indeed went on the Injured List. Bart was recalled, and without the pressure of a trusted option he started to have more success. For the month of July, Bart made 18 starts and 20 appearances, going 13-for-55 for a .236 average. He doubled twice and homered three times, though 22 strikeouts still wasn't a good look.
When the trade deadline rolled around in early-August, the Giants made a somewhat-surprising move by trading Casali to the Seattle Mariners when he was healing and beginning a rehab stint. That deal firmly removed Bart's competition for the starting job.
Since the trade, Bart has been on a tear. Despite losing time to a right-ankle sprain, the backstop is hitting .500 in seven games with two home runs and five RBI. Maybe the best sign of his taking the reigns is the strikeout total over 29 plate appearances: six.
Yes, it's likely this is just a crazy hot streak and that he'll cool down. But it doesn't seem like a coincidence that he returned from the minor leagues and showed improvement right away in July while being able to play more free, and that he is now obliterating the ball with the weight of being replaced taken off his shoulders by the Casali trade.
Bart is now THE GUY behind the plate for the Giants. He won't be Posey, but it's a good bet he'll help the team win in his own way. All it took was not having to worry about his job.