Following an eventful winter, the Giants welcomed a straightforward, fuss-free spring, and that’s mostly what they got. They avoided any devastating long-term injuries to the roster and a few bright spots emerged on the horizon.
Perhaps the brightest and most pleasant surprise of the entire preseason was Blake Sabol, the Giants’ 25-year-old do-it-all catcher and outfielder.
Who is Sabol, where did he come from, and does he figure to be a difference-maker in San Francisco?
The California native was acquired by the Giants in a December trade with Cincinnati, just moments after the Reds picked him up from Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 Draft. It must have been a whirlwind of emotion for Sabol; how does anyone begin to grasp what their life will be like when they’re bounced between three different cities, all in the space of one day?
When the dust finally settled it was San Francisco he would call home for the next year. Due to the stipulations of the Rule 5 Draft, Sabol has to stay on the 26-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to the Pirates.
Thankfully, the fit with the Giants already looks like a good one. The club were keen on Sabol because he offers value as both a catcher and an outfielder. That versatility was too intriguing for the Giants to ignore and an invite to Spring Training gave him the platform to show his worth.
Sabol certainly did that, and more.
Over the course of 20 spring games, Sabol put on a show with an impressive .348/.475/.630 slashline (BA/OBP/SLG), 3 home runs, 10 RBIs, and a 1.106 OPS. His remarkable development throughout March cemented his place on the Opening Day roster without any doubt. Sabol’s 12 walks to 13 strikeouts stood out to me in particular, highlighting his exceptional plate discipline, something that stands him apart from his backstop brethren Joey Bart and Roberto Pérez.
Sabol was brought into camp to provide competition at the catcher position but his inexperience there, compared to the duo of Bart and Pérez, was always likely to hold him back. Sabol has only appeared in 94 minor league games behind the plate and is still very much developing his skillset; Sabol has yet to make his MLB debut. However, reports indicate the Giants are pleased with his progress and Sabol more than held his own when he featured at catcher these past few weeks.
Sabol always faced an uphill battle to supplant Bart and Pérez but timely short-term injuries to Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater means he may win a starting place after all, regardless of his catching prowess.
The ability to play a reliable outfield, the recent opportunity to feature there, and Sabol’s blazing-hot spring performances have combined to make him a strong favourite to earn significant playing time when the Giants start their 2023 campaign at Yankee Stadium this week. It’s quite impressive that a 6-foot-4 catcher can display the level of athleticism he does; Sabol stole 10 bases in the minors last year, for good measure. Manning a corner outfield spot certainly doesn’t look beyond him.
Sabol’s journey will be one to watch in the early weeks of the new season and fans will hope to see the spring sensation get meaningful moments to contribute with the Giants. If Sabol can be a regular feature in the outfield, and spell Bart and Pérez at catcher occasionally, the team will be very pleased with their investment. Manager Gabe Kapler recently said Sabol had “made a fantastic impression” on the club so far.
Giants fans will get to witness this firsthand very shortly, and so will I, from my sofa across the ocean here in the UK.
Good luck Blake – we’re rooting for you.
Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29
Photo credit for featured image by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.