Giants’ answers in catching competition will reveal themselves soon
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — As the Giants pack up their equipment trucks, they will include four sets of catchers gear. Declared a “true competition” on the first day of camp, San Francisco’s backstop blockade hasn’t resolved itself yet as the team heads north.
With opening day arriving Thursday, answers are coming. And at least one decision will have to be made even sooner.
While nothing has yet to be finalized, the Giants’ head decision-maker — president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi -provided some insight on the state of the competition Friday in an end-of-camp media session.
The most imminent choice Zaidi and the Giants’ brain trust must make is regarding Roberto Pérez, the veteran former Gold Glover in camp as a nonroster invitee. Pérez’s minor-league deal includes an opt-out clause that was triggered Saturday, giving the Giants 48 hours — until Monday — to add him to their active roster, or he can request his release.
While Pérez’s track record with the glove — back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2019 and 2020 — is impressive and extensive, and he has received rave reviews from Giants pitchers, his recent health history is equally concerning and would ultimately be what keeps him from the roster, if the team goes in a different direction.
After surgeries on his right ring finger and left hamstring and inflammation in his right shoulder the past two seasons, Pérez has played in the fewest games of any of the four catchers this spring.
“He’s felt really good and he’s ready to catch more, so that part of the evaluation has been very positive,” Zaidi said. “That’s kind of the final hurdle in his position is feeling like he can handle the workload that we need of him to be on the team.”
Whether it is in tandem with Joey Bart or Blake Sabol — or both, as the club seems increasingly likely to break camp with three catchers — the Giants need to be confident that Pérez has the ability to catch half of their games. Or else Austin Wynns provides another veteran option to back up their younger backstops.
“That’s not an easy hurdle for a veteran catcher,” Zaidi conceded.
Pérez and Wynns would each need to be added to the 40-man roster, but that shouldn’t present any issues, as the Giants have three players expected to start the season on the 60-day injured list (Luis González, Luke Jackson and Thomas Szapucki).
While Bart’s second-year status means he has options remaining and can be sent to the minor leagues, manager Gabe Kapler was highly complimentary of his camp, after the Giants challenged him at the start of spring to earn the job. Bart has six hits — two doubles and a home run among them — in 25 at-bats (.240), has drawn four walks to eight strikeouts and has shown progress in his throwing and framing.
“I think he’s done a really nice job,” Kapler said. “I think he’s made some adjustments (and) taken the feedback to heart. Last year, he didn’t throw great; this camp, he’s throwing the ball really well. … We’ve asked him not to focus on how many hits he got in camp and how many homers he hit but more being selectively aggressive and putting balls in play. He did a nice job of that, too.”
The more complicated roster situation involves Sabol, the Rule 5 pick whose 1.173 on-base-plus-slugging figure leads all qualified hitters in the majors this spring.
It’s possible — even probable — that Sabol is the Giants’ starting left fielder Thursday (the 17th different one in as many years), with Austin Slater and Mitch Haniger likely to start the year on the injured list. But his status as a Rule 5 pick means he must be on the active roster all year or be offered back to Pittsburgh.
And while Haniger and Slater are sidelined, it might be an option to carry three catchers, with Sabol primarily filling in in the outfield. That’s not likely to be the case once they come back.
“Him being comfortable out there is really part of what gives us the ability to come out of the gate in that three-catcher configuration,” Zaidi said. “For us to get through the full season with Blake on the roster, he’s going to have to prove himself to be a viable major league catcher.”
Sabol’s biggest challenges remain his throwing arm and his inexperience, but he has made progress, exemplified by Logan Webb’s two most recent outings. He caught Webb for the first time earlier this month against the Diamondbacks, and it did not go well. Webb’s pitches have more movement than most, and often they moved away from Sabol’s glove and to the backstop.
With Webb’s input, they agreed to have Sabol catch his next start, too, and came away impressed with his improvement.
“Things really improved,” Zaidi said. “Webby was really complimentary of that.”
While it looks likely that it will be Pérez, Bart and Sabol in uniform at Yankee Stadium on opening day, the final decisions haven’t yet been made. Kapler said Friday that he summoned the input of everyone who has been monitoring the competition this spring, from front-office analysts down to their two bullpen catchers.
“It’s been a fun challenge but an important one, and I don’t think it’s ended yet,” Kapler said. “Leaving aside the offense, because I feel we have a better understanding of that, we just want to be able to say, this guy is our best option behind the plate defensively and really understand what we’re saying.”
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