The SF Giants experimented with Blake Sabol behind the dish in 2023. However, he has been supplanted as the backup catcher following the addition of Tom Murphy. How do the Giants plan to use him this season?
What are the SF Giants plans for Blake Sabol in 2024?
As a Rule 5 pick from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Giants had to keep Sabol on the active roster for the entire 2023 season. He played well enough to stick and now the Giants have control over his roster rights.
They could not option him last year without exposing him to waivers, but they now have the ability to do so this time around given that he is no longer under the constraints of the Rule 5 pick. In essence, the Giants acquired a prospect in exchange for former third-round pick Jake Wong.
In his first year, Sabol had some promising moments. Overall, he registered a .236/.301/.394 line (91 OPS+) with 13 home runs, 44 RBI, and 36 runs in 344 plate appearances. This includes a 7.0 percent walk rate, 34.0 percent strikeout rate, and a .158 ISO. He did post a .744 OPS against right-handed pitching, so there is a chance that he could stick as the strong side of a platoon.
The strikeout rate was too high and needs to come down but that could come with time. As is often the case with Rule 5 picks, they are rushed to the majors without a ton of experience in the upper minors. The lefty bat was no different as he only tallied 101 plate appearances in Triple-A before joining San Francisco.
His overall offensive profile was raw in some respects. However, he did flash some power, especially to the middle of the field, which is a tough way to hit home runs. At times, he had streaks where he was consistently making hard contact. Perhaps, he might be a streaky hitter at the end of the day, but when the home runs come, it feels like they come in bunches.
In the field is where Sabol was still learning whether it was at catcher or in left field. The Giants added him with the intention of using him at catcher despite the fact that he only had 94 games of experience behind the plate as a pro. They knew that this was going to be a steep learning curve and there is still work to be done.
That said, the 26-year-old did struggle in some key areas of catching including blocking and throwing. However, his framing skills were passable and that holds value to teams and pitching staffs. Patrick Bailey was the best at framing in 2023 and his impact was felt every game. Though, with Sabol, the emphasis on framing did come with an unusually high number of catcher's interference calls.
In left field, I do not think Sabol was all that bad with the glove. He did not read the ball off of the bat well at times and ran some interesting routes, but made up for it with enough athleticism to make the plays.
The ability to play catcher and left field should help Sabol's case in 2024. The Giants have coverage at both positions to start the year, but it feels like he could be one of the first options if an injury arises. San Francisco likely wants him to continue getting the bulk of the reps behind the plate in Triple-A, but need will determine how he is used.
There was enough promise in his bat last season to think that he could develop into a solid role player as a multi-positional, platoon hitter. And, if he is able to cut down on his strikeout rate, that could be as soon as this season.