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Sabol Row

The Giants catching conundrum is getting more complicated

MLB: Spring Training-San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Sabol Row is a play on San Francisco Giants catching prospect Blake Sabol’s surname and Savile Row, the prominent street in Central London made famous for its high-end custom tailoring, as well as the location of Apple Studios where The Beatles performed their last live performance in January 1969.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say with this pun—maybe Sabol comes off as a put-together guy with an air of professionalism one doesn’t see often from a 25 year old with zero MLB experience. Maybe it has something to do with his glasses, which is a statement piece in a sea of orange-and-black uniformed conformists. (We all miss Kelby Tomlinson). The Beatles thing: Paul McCartney was nearly 25 when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came out and turned popular music inside out. Sabol crafted an .860 OPS across two levels of minor league ball at the same age…need I say more?

I’ll be the first to agree that the play on words isn’t quite there, but it’s March 2nd, we’re all still loosening up.

Blake Sabol and the rest of the San Francisco catching corps on the other hand…(nailed it) came into spring training stretched, warmed, and swinging. 5 of the Giants 10 home runs this spring have come off a bat of a catching option. Sabol, Austin Wynns and Brett Auerbach all went deep in Wednesday’s game while incumbent Joey Bart cruised one to left on Tuesday.

I have seasoned that last paragraph with a palm-full of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt—it’s still early, pitchers tend to take longer to prepare for the season than hitters do, and this year they’re doing it with a stress-inducing clock draped around their neck like Wonderland’s White Rabbit. (Some pitchers are handling it better than others.)

A home run on March 1st isn’t a home run off Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series—it still feels good, especially for a group of players competing for a very open spot on San Francisco’s big league roster.

Joey Bart proved he can play at the Major League level. His take off was turbulent with some precipitous dips last season, but after his midsummer return to SF, Bart looked more comfortable with a bat in his hand, padded up behind the plate, and in his own skin.

Even after settling in, the performance as a whole was more anxiety-inducing than anything else. The season numbers aren’t great. Manager Gabe Kapler made it clear to Bart that his role as head chef at the dish was far from guaranteed.

Giants brass invited old teammate Wynns as well as Gold Glove winner and 8-year veteran Roberto Pérez to camp along with Sabol, Auerbach, Ford Proctor, Ricardo Genovés, Brett Cumberland, Patrick Bailey, and Andy Thomas.

There are officially too many cooks in the kitchen. The Giants know that—but players like Auerbach and Proctor are utility men with a catching option, while others like Andrew Bailey haven’t played above A+ ball and will be one of the earlier spring cuts no matter how well he plays. Some of these invitees might be more kindling to fuel the flame under Bart’s behind more than anything else.

The Giants catching situation, which started out as an interesting subplot with Bart, Wynns and newly signed Pérez, has knotted itself into a conundrum, largely thanks to the acts of Sabol.

Bart is the moody heir apparent to the Posey, the first round pick boy-genius…who is now just 26 years old, living in his parents’ basement eating toaster strudel for lunch. Bart needs to come out crushing this spring and he knows it. A quicker swing developed in the offseason has him 3-for-4—all hits for extra bases—in his first two Cactus League games. He also made a nice throw down to second to “back pick” a runner at second, which showed off his arm and his ability to control the running game in this new era of restricted disengagements and pick-off throws by pitchers.

Austin Wynns just feels like the definition of a back-up catcher. He does his job. He doesn’t have Bart’s pop, nor his volatility—Wynns is stable. He’ll do his job every third or fourth day with little fuss or fanfare. That’s an attractive quality in a bench player , but he doesn’t offer much in terms of upside or flexibility.

Roberto Pérez, who won back-to-back Gold Gloves for Cleveland in 2019 and 2020, has hardware to his name and a great reputation around the league for guiding pitchers, but he’s 34 years old. We’ve had enough of 34 year old catchers! The last time Pérez logged more than 200 plate appearances in a season was 2019. Most recently, he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury after playing in 21 games in ‘22. His strength is his glove and his mind, he’s not there to smash taters (though he did hit 24 of them in 2019). He’d be an effective tandem with the younger Bart.

Honestly, the reason I’m writing this piece and slinging waggish wordplay with aplomb is the Blake Sabol option. Sabol is 6’4’’, weighs 220 pounds, hits left-handed, is athletic enough to play outfield and savvy enough to pick-up catching in order to stand out in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

After hitting .281/.347/.486 in 98 games in Double-A Altoona, Sabol responded to the promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis by hitting .296/.426/.543 across 25 games. He hit 19 home runs last season and boasted a good eye at the plate with an excellent walk rate as well.

Sabol is 4-for-7 this spring with a two-pair of doubles and home runs and 5 RBIs. As a Rule 5 pick, the Giants are required to offer him back to Pittsburgh for $50,000 if they boot him from the 26-man roster (which I’m pretty sure is correct, I’ve googled it about 10 times). It’s a small price to pay (about 5,555 $9 beers) if Sabol eats his mitt, but the damage could be a quantifiable gut-punch if the Giants choose to pass and he blossoms at the big league level.

It’s too early to make a decision about the team’s 2023 catching possibilities—but if I had to pick right now, I’d go Joey Bart and Blake Sabol.

Bart because dang it, I’ve invested too much in him already. Sabol because why not take a risk and have a little fun with your back-up catcher?