Bart or Bust: Is Joey Bart the Next Big Prospect Bust?
Joey Bart catching in the 2019 All-Star Futures game; CC by License 2.0
Joey Bart was drafted second overall in the 2018 MLB draft. Five years later, Bart has produced 0.7 fWAR in just 132 games for the San Francisco Giants. Bart has the ability to produce at a very above-average level in the minor leagues. As soon as the bright lights of the big show shine on him, however, he simply can not replicate that production.
Bart’s spot on the big-league roster for the Giants is up in the air. In fact, the Giants front office stated that the starting catching job was up for grabs during the 2023 Spring Training. Bart, a respected catching prospect, is shaping up to be one of the bigger prospect busts in recent history. He has absolutely everything to prove in 2023. His spot in the organization could, very well, depend on his 2023 season.
Joey Bart has been a bit of a journeyman, but not in the usual way. His journeys have been between San Francisco and Sacramento AAA. Bart debuted with the Giants a bit prematurely after the beloved Buster Posey opted out of the 2020 COVID season. In the 60 games played by the Giants that year, Bart played in 33. It was in these 33 games that the major issues in Bart’s game were realized. He mustered a 0.1 fWAR while striking out 36.9% of the time in 111 plate appearances. His wRC+ clocked in at 68, 32 points below the league average. These numbers become more striking when compared to his minor-league stats from 2019. In that season, Bart put up a .278/.328/.495 slash line in 313 at-bats across A+ and AA ball. After being promoted to AA, his stats, although small in sample size, really began to shine. He put up a 163 wRC+ while only striking out 24.1% of the time. You can not blame Giants fans for being excited about this kid after he put up those numbers in the minors. With the face of their franchise out for the year, Bart had a major opportunity to step up and fill those shoes. Unfortunately, he did not live up to those hopes. 2021 and beyond would surely be his year.
The 2021 season for the Giants was full of surprises, none of which concerned Joey Bart. Baseball fans know the story of how the 2021 Giants shocked the sport by going out and winning 107 games, setting their single-season win record. These wins largely came on the backs of resurgent, productive seasons by veterans, including star catcher Buster Posey. This season was not all bad for Bart, even though he had to miss out on the fun, playing most of his year in AAA Sacramento. In 67 games in 2021, Bart had another impressive offensive year. His strikeout rate remained at a manageable 29.4% while he walked 7.5% of the time. He ended up with a 107 wRC+ after his time in AAA ended, yet again leaving the front office with a good taste in their mouths about the future of the catching position. The injury bug began to leave its mark on Bart this season, as he would play those 67 games in AAA and just two MLB games when the season ended. He spent a lot of time battling hand, foot, and quadriceps injuries. These injuries essentially ended Bart’s 2021 season, but the front office was still excited about his future based on the above-average offensive year he put together.
After the 2021 season, Buster Posey retired. He ended his career on an extremely high note after he put up one of his best offensive seasons since his MVP in 2012. Joey Bart was up next, but the Giants did not fully trust him just yet, proven by the signing of veteran catcher Curt Casali. 2022 would certainly be the year of Bart, right?
Joey got a lot of chances in 2022. He played in 97 games at the MLB level for the Giants. However, those chances further proved that he was unprepared for MLB pitching. The strikeout numbers jumped even higher than his last extended stretch in the majors. He struck out 38.5% of the time. That rate was among the worst in the league. His strikeout-prone approach saw him optioned to AAA. In fact, in the 90 at-bats Bart had before being sent down, he struck out in 49 of them. His optioning was paired with a trade for Austin Wynns of the Phillies organization. Wynns and Casali ended up having far better seasons than the former prospect in Bart. By taking chances on other catchers, the Giants established a pattern of distrust in Bart that will end up carrying on to the present day,
Flash forward to the start of the 2023 Spring Training. The front office and manager Gabe Kapler made it clear that there was no one answer for the catching position entering the 2023 season. Bart would have to prove himself yet again, this time being perhaps the most essential for his career. When the end of preseason ball came around, Bart had made the opening-day roster. However, Roberto Perez, a veteran coming from the Pirates, and Blake Sabol, a Rule-5 draft pick the Giants also got from the Pirates, were listed as catchers on the opening-day roster, too. The Giants, again, bolstered the catching position in order to minimize the potential of a Bart implosion. They have officially spread out their eggs into many catching baskets. To further prove this point, the Giants recently agreed on a minor-league contract with Gary Sanchez, another catcher. The Giants are not confident in Bart. They have acquired three other catchers in the past few months in case something bad were to happen to Bart in 2023. And wouldn’t you know it, Bart was scratched from his first start at catcher because of a back strain. Bart would end up on the injured list later that day, too.
Joey Bart is headed down a dark path. The once highly-respected prospect had everything set in front of him: An early promotion in 2020 and the retirement of the guy who was blocking his starting job in the big leagues after the 2021 season. Joey Bart has done little to reassure the Giants that he is the next answer for them at catcher. This is made clear when looking at how the Giants have heavily reinforced the catching position for the first time since the Buster Posey days. Bart could go down as a bust, or he could finally play at the ceiling he is capable of. One thing is certain: Bart absolutely can tear the cover off of a baseball. His only notable percentile ranking from 2022 was his 95th percentile in Max Exit Velocity. Giants fans everywhere are rooting for him. Bart’s 2023 needs to be productive or he may just find himself being shipped off for a prospect haul.