Buster Posey’s surprising retirement at the end of the 2021 MLB season left a huge question mark behind the plate for the SF Giants. San Francisco hoped that longtime top prospect, and 2018 second overall pick, Joey Bart was ready to take over.
However, as Bart’s extensive offensive struggles this season have pushed him behind veteran Curt Casali, the Giants decided to option Bart to Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday and trade for 31-year-old veteran catcher Austin Wynns to serve as Casali’s backup. The Giants sent left-handed pitcher Michael Plassmeyer to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Wynns.
Plassmeyer is a classic “crafty southpaw” who mixes and matches several pitches to remain effective without exceptional velocity. Plassmeyer’s changeup is his best offering and has helped him strike out more than a batter per inning at Triple-A this season, but he has still struggled mightily across 11 appearances, posting a 7.38 ERA in 46.1 innings pitched.
A San Diego native, Wynns has been a backup catcher for parts of three MLB seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. A 2013 10th-round pick out of Fresno State, Wynns slowly worked his way up the minor league ranks with a contact-oriented approach and good defense behind the plate.
However, Wynns has spent 2021 with the Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A affiliate and posted some impressive production.
Wynns is hitting .365/.504/.500 in 33 Triple-A games with Lehigh Valley this year. While he hit just .185/.232/.308 in inconsistent playing time last season with the Orioles, Wynns posted a 1.011 OPS in a short Triple-A stint last year as well.
Perhaps, and probably most likely, Wynns is the quintessential AAAA-player/MLB backup, but the Giants have bet on older players with surprisingly exceptional minor league stat lines before. As they scramble to find consistency at catcher, San Francisco hopes that Wynns could be their latest fantastic find.
Wynns is slugging .500 this year in 134 Triple-A plate appearances, which marks a notable improvement from his minor league career .376 mark. But the Giants are probably more focused on Wynns bringing a different part of his 2021 performance to the majors: his ability to get on base.
As previously mentioned, Wynns has always avoided strikeouts at an exceptional rate, however, until this season, that had generally translated to below-average walk rates as well. This year in the Phillie organization, though, Wynns has a 28-to-18 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Needless to say, a walk-rate north of 20% will turn some heads, and if Wynns can just record a 10-15% walk rate for the Giants, it will give him a solid floor for his production.
The future for Bart remains more uncertain. After spending the vast majority of the 2021 season at Triple-A, it’s hard to know if the Giants have a particular player development reason for optioning their former top prospect or if they simply want to give someone else an opportunity behind the plate.
Bart has been good defensively this season, particularly by catcher framing metrics, however, his .156/.296/.300 triple-slash and alarming 45.4% strikeout rate were obviously far from what San Francisco was hoping for.
As the SF Giants face life without Buster Posey, they shook things up behind the plate on Wednesday. Austin Wynns could have an opportunity to earn consistent playing time in a timeshare with Curt Casali and the Giants would love nothing more than another minor acquisition turning into a major contributor.
If Wynns is unable to take advantage of the big-league opportunity, though, Joey Bart will be back in the minor leagues trying to find a rhythm in the batter’s box. Despite his struggles this season, Bart is still just 25 with exceptional power potential. He may never put it altogether, but until the Giants have found a consistent option behind the dish, they’ll be hoping for Bart to live up to the lofty expectations that have followed him throughout his professional career.