Giants' vets, young catching prospects to compete for backup job originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The Giants are just about a week from one of the more exciting days on the baseball calendar, one summed up by four familiar words: Pitchers and catchers report. But if you look at their 40-man roster, it's currently pitchers and catcher.
Joey Bart is the only true catcher on the 40-man, although he'll be joined by at least seven other options at Scottsdale Stadium next week. Blake Sabol, an outfielder/catcher, is on the 40-man roster after being acquired in a trade in December. On Monday, the Giants announced six non-roster invitees, including two veterans who will compete to back up Bart on Opening Day.
It's not a group that's as deep as the Giants are accustomed to or one that has a lot of combined success at the highest level, but the Giants are hopeful they find a good pairing over the next seven weeks. At FanFest on Saturday, manager Gabe Kapler said the competition will be wide open, but it does appear that there's a preferred choice.
Roberto Perez signed a minor league deal last week and comes to camp with the most pedigree as a two-time Gold Glove Award winner with a 24-homer season on his resume. The Giants reportedly beat out the Boston Red Sox for Perez's services, giving him a contract with a base salary of $2.5 million if he's in the big leagues and another $1.5 million available in incentives.
It wasn't hard to read between the lines as Kapler spoke. He's very happy to have the 34-year-old in camp.
"Physically, the reputation is strong. The catch, the throw, the block -- he has a reputation as being at the top of the league," Kapler said. "Then, the relationship he has with the pitchers, that's also an excellent reputation. Just having a veteran catcher in camp that our pitchers are going to be really excited to throw to, learn from, be exposed to -- (it's) a big deal.
"We really haven't had that since Buster (Posey) and it's meaningful."
Perez has nine years of big league experience, more than the rest of the Giants catching group combined. He won back-to-back Gold Gloves in Cleveland in 2019-20, but has played just 65 games the last two seasons.
While Perez hit 24 homers in 2019 and posted a four-win season, that has been an outlier. Overall, he has a .658 OPS in the big leagues and just one season with more than eight home runs. In Pittsburgh last year, he hit .233 with a .700 OPS and two homers in 21 appearances.
In a lot of ways, Perez is similar to Austin Wynns, who came over in a trade last season and at times was in a virtual timeshare with Bart. With an OPS+ of 90, Wynns was more effective than most backup catchers, and he won over the starting staff, which earned him some extra appearances with the since-departed Carlos Rodón down the stretch.
"Austin did a really nice job for us last year," Kapler said. "We feel confident that if he was on our roster and taking down a significant amount of reps, he'd be just fine."
Wynns was DFA'd in January to open a roster spot for Michael Conforto, but he accepted an outright assignment to the Triple-A roster and will join Perez and four other non-roster invitees headed to camp: Patrick Bailey, Brett Cumberland, Ricardo Genovés and Brett Auerbach.
Bailey is a veteran of big league camp at this point, having gone straight to summer camp at Oracle Park and then the alternate site in Sacramento after being selected 13th overall in the 2020 draft. He posted a .761 OPS last season and won a minor league Gold Glove, and he's likely to start this year in Double-A.
Cumberland, 27, comes over as depth after spending most of last season in Triple-A with the Orioles. A Turlock native, he was a second-round pick out of Cal in 2016. Genoves is back in Giants camp for what seems like the 10th time, but he's still just 23. He spent last season in Double-A and Triple-A.
Auerbach was one of the stories of camp last spring and might have made the most impressive play by any Giant at any level last season. His versatility is his calling card and he played six different positions in Double-A last year, starting 21 behind the plate. In a tough league for hitters, Auerbach had a .220/.311/.398 slash line with 17 homers.
Versatility will be the key for another catching option in camp, and it might get him on the Opening Day roster. The Giants traded for Sabol right after he was taken in the Rule 5 Draft and they're excited to get an extended look at him. The 25-year-old has a .849 OPS in the minors and posted a .426 OBP in limited Triple-A time last year, although the defensive fit will be a question.
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Sabol can play the corner outfield spots but the Giants don't have a need there. He has just 93 starts behind the plate in the minors, but he has shown enough to intrigue a staff that has talked often in recent years of eventually having a left-handed catcher on the roster.
Ford Proctor was a similar option last season, but because Sabol was a Rule 5 pick, the Giants won't have the ability to stash him at Triple-A. If Sabol shows enough in camp, it's possible the Giants open with three catchers, going short elsewhere while they take a look at their Rule 5 pick.
"(He) has had success everywhere he has gone with a stick in his hand," Kapler said. "He hasn't proven that he can be a capable Major League catcher yet, and we're working hard already on that."
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