Giants hope catcher Joey Bart is the start of a promising new era

Catcher gets his first big league call-up at the age of 23

By Ben Ross

Special to the S.F. Examiner

In September of 2009, a young catcher named Buster Posey made his Major League debut for the San Francisco Giants. Over the next five years, Posey would help lead the team to three World Series titles, collecting Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards along the way.

Nearly 11 years later, the Giants are hoping history repeats itself.

The excitement has been palpable in San Francisco, as top prospect Joey Bart earned his first big league call-up last week at the age of 23, signifying a promising new era for the franchise.

Of course, Bart has a bit of work to do before warranting a comparison to Posey, at least in terms of on-field achievements, but you have to admit they have an awful lot in common.

For starters, both catchers grew up in Georgia — Posey in Leesburg, Bart in Buford. Both played college baseball in the Atlantic Coast Conference — Posey at Florida State, Bart at Georgia Tech. Both won the Johnny Bench Award, presented annually to college baseball’s top catcher. And both were top-five draft picks of the San Francisco Giants — Posey fifth overall in 2008, Bart second in 2018.

But the similarities don’t end there. From his very first time taking the field at Oracle Park, Bart has displayed a calm, confident demeanor, reminding Giants brass of — yes, you guessed it — Buster Posey.

“It doesn’t feel especially tense in any part of his game and I think that’s going to serve him well as he makes this transition,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler. “Buster Posey is in a class of his own. He is a Hall of Fame catcher and also very, very calm. I’m not saying that Joey is going to be Buster, but a lot of the calmness and relaxed nature that Buster brings to the ballpark every day, Joey kind of brings some of that as well.”

With Posey opting out of this shortened season due to concerns about the coronavirus and the health of his newly adopted twin baby girls, Bart figures to see the majority of playing time behind the plate for the rest of the year.

“I’m just going to come out and play extremely hard,” Bart said. “I’m going to prepare. I’m going to try to do everything I can to be the best I can for my guys on the mound and, moving forward, just come out and compete every day. I know if I can do that and bring energy and swing the bat, good things will happen.”

Good things happened quickly for Bart, who recorded a hit in each of his first four games, all Giants victories. In his third career at-bat, he nearly tore the cover off of the baseball, rocketing a double down the left-field line at a blistering 109.5 miles per hour. The next night, Bart picked up his first RBI on a grueling 10-pitch walk with the bases loaded, a plate appearance that thoroughly impressed his teammates.

“In that situation, a lot of young guys might come out of their strike zone and swing at some bad pitches,” three-time All-Star Evan Longoria explained. “He fought off some tough ones and ended up having a great at-bat there. I think he’s been really composed, kind of the same guy I saw both in spring training and in the summer camp. I think he’s really proven that he’s ready to play here and I think he’s got a pretty high ceiling. He’s going to be pretty special.”

Added Kapler: “It was so professional and he never got out of control. It wasn’t like ‘Oh, there’s this intentional walk issued in front of me so now I have to do more.’ It was actually just as calm as everything else he’s been doing, so that was really promising.”

Bart has also shown great promise on the defensive side, leading his pitchers through at-bats with a firm, yet calming command, framing pitches in the strike zone like an artist.

“He’s pretty good, huh?” Giants right-hander Logan Webb chuckled. “I’ve known Joey for the last two years and he’s one of the biggest competitors. He’s fun to watch and it’s fun to work with him. He’s going to be a special player.”

Kapler concurred: “He’s been great so far in just about every element of the game. … I believe strongly that Joey has an opportunity to be a great Major Leaguer for a really long time.”

That sentiment comes as no surprise to those who have followed Bart’s career from the beginning. From Buford to Georgia Tech to the Giants minor-league system, the powerful right-handed bat has dominated his competition. When that journey culminated in the big leagues, Bart became the first Buford High School graduate to play in a Major League Baseball game.

“If you know me, I’m really passionate about where I come from, from Buford,” Bart said. “I love everyone back there. They’re back home and they’re cheering me on. … I play for my teammates, for myself, but also for where I come from, and that’s really important to me.”

Many in the Giants’ front office believe Bart can help guide the franchise back to prominence, just as Posey did a decade ago. San Francisco has finished with a losing record in each of the last three years, but in this shortened season with an expanded playoff format, the team’s recent hot streak has them in serious contention for a postseason berth.

“We see [Bart] being able to help us win games,” said Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. “Our fans, we as a front office, as an organization, and even the players in the clubhouse are all excited to see what he can do.”

Looking to the future, it remains to be seen how the Giants will utilize Bart and Posey together when the latter presumably returns to the team next year. Posey, 33, is slated to earn $21.4 million in the final guaranteed year of his contract.

The potential continuation of the universal designated hitter in 2021 would open an additional lineup spot for either Bart or Posey. Both can also play first base, with Bart getting repetitions there this year at the Giants’ alternate training site in Sacramento. Either way, Zaidi is not overly concerned.

“Catching is the toughest position to secure,” he explained. “So having a future Hall of Famer and a guy like Joey coming up and a first-round draft pick [Patrick Bailey] in the system … we feel really good about the organizational depth we have at that position. These things have a way of working themselves out.”

While some veterans might feel threatened by a young, talented potential replacement joining the franchise, Posey has welcomed Bart to the team with open arms.

“He shot me a text and told me congratulations,” Bart revealed. “That meant a lot to me. He’s an unbelievable guy. I’m glad that he and the babies and his family are healthy.”

In Posey’s mind, this was his opportunity to pay forward the guidance he received early in his own career.

“I feel very lucky to have come into an organization where there was a catcher like Bengie Molina who supported me and was there for me to bounce ideas off of, to watch and learn from,” Posey said. “I’ve always wanted to, at some point in my career, do the same. … Baseball is a game I love so I want others, especially in the Giants organization, to thrive and have great, long, successful careers.”

Based on his talent and work ethic, Bart is poised to have just that.

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