ORACLE PARK — The last time that Joey Bart was at AT&T Park — at least publicly — was his fawning introduction by then-San Francisco Giants general manager Bobby Evans. It may not be much longer before he returns.
Bart — the Giants’ top pick in last June’s amateur draft and college baseball’s Johnny Bench Award Winner last season — rapped out three hits in his home debut for the San Jose Giants on Thursday, including a 402-foot home run. On Friday, before taking on the Colorado Rockies, manager Bruce Bochy said he’s paid attention.
“You can’t help but notice,” said Bochy, who may not even get to manage the No. 2 overall pick, given that he’s retiring at the end of the season. ‘May’ being the operative word.
Bart’s extended time with San Francisco during spring training, his torrid start in the minors and his advanced defensive work have all impressed those inside the organization. While it’s not likely Bart makes his Major League debut this season, there’s a faint possibility that, with declining attendance, a September call-up could be in order. He is the future, after all.
Buster Posey is coming off hip surgery that shortened his 2018 season, and is still working his way back into catching every day. He was treated with kid gloves this spring, and hasn’t quite gotten back to catching every day (he’ll get the day off on Friday, but will be available to hit, and will catch Saturday’s day game).
While his pop seems to be back — Posey’s hard-hit ball percentage is up to 48.4% from 34.9% last year, and 34.5% the season before — it’s plain that Posey won’t be a full-time catcher for much longer.
Granted, this is all far-too-early speculation, but, consider: Bart was, at one point, slated to join the Giants for the Bay Bridge Series against the Oakland Athletics, and that he got 21 plate appearances in 15 games in big league spring training the first spring after he was drafted out of Georgia Tech.
“I’d say we probably kept him a little bit longer than normal,” Bochy said. “But, that said, now, we were giving him playing time, so he got a lot of experience with us, valuable experience. He’s going to be on a fast pace to get up here.”
The former ACC Player of the Year is following right in the footsteps of Posey (also an ACC Player of the Year). In his first spring training — like Bart, eight months after he was drafted — Posey got into 20 games, with 30 plate appearances. He made his Major League debut six months later, and came up for good in May of 2010 — coincidentally the last time the Giants drew under 30,000 to a game at then-AT&T-now-Oracle Park. Bochy said Bart is on a “similar” pace.
“I mean, let’s give the kid some time here,” Bochy said. “We’ll see what happens this year. He’s gotten off to a great start.”
Aramis Garcia, who spent time with the Giants last season, is hitting .300 in his first five games, but he’s not the answer. Neither is Stephen Vogt, who, Bochy said, the club would probably make a decision on sooner rather than later, as his opt-out date of June 1 approaches. Vogt, who is starting to catch more as he works back from shoulder surgery, is more likely to be used as trade bait than displace the equally-well-liked 38-year old Erik Kratz behind Posey as the primary backup.
The long-term solution is clearly Bart, and organization officials have said that ever since he was drafted. In seven games at High-A (small sample size disclaimer), he’s hit .321 with two doubles, a triple and two home runs, slugging .679. Those numbers are impressive enough (he hit .261 in the rookie league and then .298 at short-season Salem-Kizer last season), without considering the defense. He’s caught just six games, but has cut down seven of 16 runners trying to steal against him. He caught 16 of 41 in 2018.
“You get the reports, and really, he’s playing great baseball,” Bochy said. “I talked to [San Jose Giants manager] Billy Hayes yesterday, and he said he’s playing great on both sides, swinging the bat well. He said the catching and throwing, he just really has shined. We’ve got a good one here, and he’s doing what he should be doing.”