The Giants are nearing a decision point with catcher Joey Bart, who is now out of options and seems unlikely to crack the club’s Opening Day roster. Patrick Bailey is set to be the primary backstop after a strong season last year and the club signed Tom Murphy in the offseason to back him up. They also have Blake Sabol on the 40-man and can now option him to the minors. He was a Rule 5 pick last year and had to stay up due to the restrictions of that status, but they have now fully secured his rights and can send him down to act as a depth piece.
A spring injury could always clear a path for Bart but he otherwise seems poised to be squeezed off the roster in the next month or so. It’s something that Bart is aware of and he spoke to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle about it. “I try not to look out too far ahead,” Bart said. “I can only control what I can control, otherwise you can go off too many places mentally and that wouldn’t put me in the position to be my best. I’m just going to get after it and have fun and have a good spring.”
The second overall pick in the 2018 draft, Bart has hit just .219/.288/.335 in his first 503 major league plate appearances, striking out in 35.4% of them. His work at Triple-A hasn’t been outstanding either, having slashed .274/.357/.434 at that level over the past three years. That line looks decent at first glance but it all came in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where it actually comes in below average, 97 wRC+. His 28.3% strikeout rate at that level is also on the high side.
Slusser notes that Bart showed up to camp this year in excellent condition, with caveats that “best shape of his life” narratives are common at this part of the calendar. Whether any other clubs buy into his altered physique or not, he could garner interest in spite of his uninspiring results thus far. He was still considered a top 100 prospect in the league as recently as two years ago and catching tends to always be in demand. Slusser speaks to an unnamed scout and executive who each suggest there would be interest from other clubs.
Last month, MLBTR’s Anthony Franco took a look at some clubs who could make sense as a landing spot, listing the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Pirates and Rays. Milwaukee has since agreed to terms with Gary Sánchez while Pittsburgh added Yasmani Grandal, but the other three remain plausible fits. Bart’s recent struggles will likely lead to a modest return but the Giants have a few weeks to try to line something up.
Turning to the rotation, Slusser also relays that Keaton Winn is dealing with some elbow soreness. MRIs didn’t reveal any structural damage but manager Bob Melvin says they are “trying to formulate some opinions on where we go.”
Winn also dealt with some elbow soreness last spring and missed about a month of the summer, going on the injured list in the minors while on optional assignment. The fact that no structural damage can be found is perhaps a good sign, but any little issue with a starting pitcher figures to be magnified given the general flimsiness of the club’s starting rotation.
Both Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray are set to start the season on the injured list, rehabbing from hip surgery and elbow surgery, respectively. That leaves the club with a rotation headlined by Logan Webb but little certainty beyond that. Jordan Hicks will be attempting to transition from the bullpen to the rotation, a role in which he has yet to prove himself. Youngsters like Winn, Kyle Harrison and Tristan Beck are the likeliest to fill out the rotation but none of that group has even a year of big league experience.
If Winn’s elbow issue requires him to miss any time, that could force the Giants to turn to depth pieces, with Slusser highlighting non-roster invitees Spencer Howard and Daulton Jefferies as a couple of possibilities. The former has a career ERA of 7.20 while the latter has hardly pitched recently due to thoracic outlet surgery in June 2022 and then Tommy John surgery in September of that same year. If the Giants decide to bolster their rotation mix with an external addition, the free agent market still features Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Michael Lorenzen and others.
Turning to the long-term picture, Slusser also notes that prospect Bryce Eldridge will just be a first baseman for now. He was drafted last year, 16th overall, as a two-way player but it seems he’ll be putting pitching aside for the time being. “We haven’t ruled anything out there, but this year the focus is first base,” general manager Pete Putila says. “We’re super excited about the bat and we want him to get as many plate appearances as possible.”
After the draft last summer, Eldridge got into 16 Complex League games and 15 Single-A games. He hit .294/.400/.505 in 130 plate appearances but didn’t pitch. Prospect evaluators are generally more keen on his abilities as a hitter and it seems the Giants are as well. Listed at 6’7″ and 223 pounds, he played right field last year but will now be moving to first, which is where some evaluators expect him to wind up in the future.