Will Blake Sabol play outfield for the San Francisco Giants? This question comes up largely due to the frequent amount of times he’s played left field this spring. The Giants certainly see the importance of giving both Sabol and Joey Bart adequate playing time, and are likely looking for a way to keep both in the lineup.
Could Blake Sabol Play Outfield for the Giants in 2023?
Initially, Sabol was a long shot to make the opening day roster. It appeared that Austin Wynns would be backup to Bart. But during spring training, Sabol has gone above and beyond all expectations, remaining consistently on fire with the bat.
An average spring performance wouldn’t have brought Sabol into the kind of serious big-league roster consideration that he’s being given. The Giants would have wanted him to continue his development at Triple or Double-A. Even a solidly above-average performance likely wouldn’t have been enough.
But what we’ve seen from Sabol this spring is an exceptional, superstar level performance that leaves no sane way to justify keeping him off the roster on opening day. There is no question now that he is the best backup candidate the Giants have in their system. The thing is, backup isn’t good enough for him. Sabol has clearly earned a starting role for the Giants, but I’m not quick to say that Bart should be left on the bench either.
Clearly, putting one catcher in the DH spot is an option for a team that wants to have both catchers in the lineup. But the Giants already have Joc Pederson set to DH in 2023, and there’s only one DH spot.
While it’s not uncommon for backup catchers to be defensively versatile in the sense of being able to play first base, it’s rare for them to have the capacity to play outfield. This is largely due to the agility that outfielders must have on their legs. Good defensive catchers have to be able to move well too, but they spend almost all of their time on their knees.
The Giants are very fortunate that Sabol can fit in somewhere else because if he couldn’t, they’d have to either leave someone out, have Sabol and Bart share time, or put Pederson in on defense to open up the DH spot. But now, they have another option: to have Sabol play outfield.
Let’s take a look at a few other examples of catchers who have unusual versatility.
1. Willson Contreras
Willson Contreras is an example of a truly versatile catcher. During his career, he’s seen time at left field, right field, first base, and third base in addition to catching. Interestingly, the Chicago Cubs put him in the DH spot for 39 games last year, which probably indicates that they don’t find his defense to be especially great.
But Contreras’ ability to handle so many positions is a huge benefit regardless. It allows his team flexibility on lineup construction and defensive organization.
2. Austin Barnes
Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes hasn’t been an outfielder, but he can play second base, and that, being a middle infield position, is a leap for a catcher. It’s well understood that middle positions have greater defensive requirements than corner positions, and thus, Barnes’ ability to play second should make a far greater impression than when a catcher plays first.
Note that a second baseman will preferably possess speed, and catchers rarely have that. Hence, I wouldn’t endorse this phenomenon as the norm. Speed is an important tool in the evaluation of middle infielders, and it’s importance must be respected in roster construction. Also, middle infield defense is the most crucial of any, and the fielders at those positions should ideally be experts at what they do.
But teams like to know they have something to fall back on when unexpected events or injuries occur. And roster fluidity is always good when a team is trying to fit a new bat into a lineup, or trying out a player at a new position.
Barnes’ career hasn’t been ultra-impressive. But he’s been a solid player and a good defender. A useful player to have on a team.
3. Pablo Sandoval
No one, most likely, will see Pablo Sandoval listed here without going “Huh?” And it’s true that he’s hardly caught at all in his career. But in case you don’t know, he caught in a few games for the Giants in 2008 and 2009.
Though he never appeared in a game as catcher in 2018-19 (and I wish he had bummer), he was an emergency backup at that position for the Giants in both of those years. In 2019, he told Giants manager Bruce Bochy that he was willing to pitch and catch. You have to give a guy credit for that, right?
So it’s good to have guys who can do a lot of things. With Mitch Haniger out with an injury, a new outfield spot has been opened up. The Giants will need to make sure that Sabol can play outfield better than Pederson. If that is the case, one would be hard-pressed to prove that the Giants other outfield options will contribute more defensively than Sabol can with his bat.
One more thing should be made clear. We’re dealing with a corner outfield position here. The idea of putting a catcher somewhere else might not be as good if we were talking about, say, shortstop or second base, as in Austin Barnes’ case. There is a hierarchy of defensive importance based on each position. (I’m not speaking from an actual knowledge of Sabol’s defensive ability, but only guessing based on the most likely reality.)
Blake Sabol is a prospect to get excited about, as are Casey Schmitt and Bryce Johnson. If the Giants can successfully “farm out” players as they did over a decade ago, it just may lead them to their next championship.
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