What stood out so much about Joey Bart on his first night in the big leagues wasn’t the way he navigated through plate appearances, worked with his pitchers, or framed balls on the edge of the zone. It was that he looked like he had been doing all of those things at the big league level for a decade.
Bart is an advanced prospect on both sides of the ball, and a physically imposing one, which can sometimes make everyone forget that he has just 22 games of experience above Single-A. There will be nights when he looks inexperienced, or even a whole series. That was the case over the past three days, when the Dodgers reminded Bart how steep the learning curve can be.
Bart was 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts. He had a brutal defensive game on Tuesday, repeatedly having to go over signs with Johnny Cueto, dropping strikes from several relievers, and throwing a ball away late that allowed a run to score.
The coaching staff’s response to the first bump in the road? A shrug and a smile. It’s going to happen.
“The league is going to make quick adjustments to Joey and Joey is always going to need to adjust back. He’s going to have his bumps and bruises, he’s going to go through a stretch of 15-20 at-bats that don’t look great, he’s going to struggle behind the plate. He’s an inexperienced young player that’s going to take lumps along the way,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s also going to have a lot of successes. He’s going to be really good for a long time. In the interim, though, there are going to be ups and downs.
“We’re going to be patient with him. We’re going to talk to him about how he can get better and look to develop him at every turn, both so he can help us win as quickly as possible and so we get the most out of Joey and Joey gets the most out of himself long-term.”
Kapler repeatedly called these “growing pains,” but not everything about the three days stung. Bart knew he had a rough game Tuesday, but he also said he was relieved the Giants won. When he met with reporters Wednesday over Zoom, he said that was all that mattered. The issues that popped up during the win would be fixed over time.
“You can’t always really appreciate your best games because you know that’s not always going to happen, but sometimes you can appreciate ones like the one I had last night,” Bart said. “You can say, I can do this or I can do that. That’s how you try to get better.”
Through his first big league week, it’s easy to see what needs to be worked on. While the defensive issues stood out Tuesday, that’s the only one of his six games behind the plate in which the game sped up on him.
Bart said the dropped pitches happened because he was “getting a little defensive” in the late innings and trying to make sure no balls got past him with so many Dodgers on base in a tense game. The miscommunication with Johnny Cueto was in part because the Giants were trying to be extremely careful with their signs, cognizant that the Dodgers are good at figuring them out when there’s a runner on second.
“We know they’re going to be looking in,” Bart said. “We’ve got to stay on top of it and not try to give away any pitches.”
Cueto is the toughest pitcher to catch on staff, but those exchanges might have actually led to the greatest positive from Bart’s first series with the Dodgers. Cueto is honest, and he’ll tell reporters when something bothers him. But he said he has no concerns about working with Bart again.
“It’s a young catcher but at the same time he’s the future here, he’s going to learn,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “We did have some communication problems but it’s all good. He’s going to learn.”
While Bart hasn’t had a chance to show off his arm yet, pitchers have said they like working with him. After Thursday’s loss, Kevin Gausman praised Bart for stealing him several strikes on changeups that left the zone.
The defense is there already, but the bat has come catching up to do. Bart had doubles in his first three games, but it didn’t take long for the book to get out. He’ll make you miserable if you allow him to extend his arms and use his natural power:
The Dodgers knew that, so they busted Bart inside for three days. Clayton Kershaw was particularly cruel, throwing sliders in and then curveballs in the dirt. He struck Bart out twice on six pitches.
“People have done that to me for a while,” Bart said of the inside pitches. “I know if I can stick to my game and not worry about what they’re going to do to me and just do what I do, I’ll be fine. But yeah, that’s definitely what they’re going to try to do.”
Kapler said he’s looking forward to watching Bart and the new hitting coaches make adjustments.
“I think that Joey is going to hunt out over (the plate), he’s going to look for a pitch to drive that’s out over so he can get extended and drive through the baseball,” Kapler said. “He’s going to learn opponents’ repertoires and have to adjust accordingly.”
The Giants have seen this all before, of course. Bart is 4-for-22 right now, but that’s actually better than the 2-for-17 Buster Posey had in his first stint with the Giants in 2009. A year later, Posey was leading the Giants to a title, and that’s one way in which their early paths are so different.
Bart doesn’t have an offseason of work coming up soon. He was thrown right into a playoff race and will play every day for a team trying to lock up one of eight postseason spots in the National League.
As Bart settled into the big leagues over the weekend, he had a conversation with Hunter Pence, a mentor for Bart through spring training and summer camp. Pence, who would be released a few hours later, reminded Bart that the only thing that matters right now is winning games. In that respect, Bart’s first week was a huge success. The Giants are 5-2 with their prized prospect in the lineup.
“That’s where my mindset is,” Bart said. “Obviously I’m going to get better as we keep playing, but I’m trying to come out every night and draw up something really good back there and try and execute a plan and win a game.”
Breaking down highs and lows of Joey Bart’s first week with Giants originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area