The SF Giants made an interesting move earlier this offseason, adding catcher/corner outfielder Blake Sabol in a trade from the Cincinnati Reds. Despite limited experience at catcher, the Giants appear motivated to see what Sabol can do behind the plate.
What can the SF Giants expect from Blake Sabol at catcher?
Sabol was picked up by the Reds in the Rule 5 pick from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The trade does not change the rules of his roster status. He is still considered a Rule 5 pick, meaning that he has to remain on the active roster for the 2023 season so that the Giants can retain control.
The 25-year-old served as both a catcher and outfielder at the University of Southern California (USC) before being selected in the seventh round of the 2019 draft by the Pirates. Pittsburgh initially used him as an outfielder but re-introduced him to catcher over the past couple of seasons.
In total, Sabol has appeared in 94 games behind the dish as a pro. And, the Giants are willing to give him a shot as he is the only catcher along with Joey Bart on the 40-man roster. Austin Wynns, who was recently designated for assignment, cleared waivers and remained with the club. He could still make the club out of camp if Sabol does not impress.
So, what should the Giants expect from Sabol on the defensive end? From a qualitative standpoint, Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin of Fangraphs believe that the former USC product is a better fit in the outfield:
""The big-framed lefty power bat had returned to catching in pro ball and it felt imperative that he become workable back there for him to be a career big leaguer. While the Fall League is a tough place to evaluate catchers because they’re working with so many new pitchers, Sabol struggled and does look more like a corner outfield defensive fit.""- Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin
Longenhagen and Taruskin could have a point. And, they likely saw him very early in his re-introduction at catch.
However, the defensive metrics paint a slightly more favorable picture. I should add the caveat that defensive metrics, especially when it comes to catchers, can be wonky. With that being said, Sabol graded out favorably in both 2021 and 2022 behind the dish.
I am focusing primarily on his work in High-A and Double-A in 2021 and 2022, respectively, because that is where he spent the bulk of each season. He was worth +1.9 Catcher Defensive Adjustment (CDA) in 2021 and +5.2 CDA last year.
CDA attempts to evaluate catchers objectively based on framing, blocking, and throwing. He has graded favorably in terms of framing in both seasons and showed a good arm (h/t Josh Norris of Baseball America) last year.
In both seasons, Sabol's work is graded in a very small sample, but that sample gives some hope for optimism. In general, teams look for a quality defensive backstop in a backup catcher and Sabol has, at least, flashed some of that. If he can consistently hit as well, he could earn a job out of spring training.