San Francisco Chronicle
Wynns impresses as he tries to catch on
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Each day at the San Francisco Giants’ spring camp, it seems a different catcher is in the frame.
On Day 1, it was veteran Roberto Peréz, signed to a minorleague deal this month. On Day 2, it was Rule 5 draftee Blake Sabol. On Day 3, incumbent Joey Bart, who is not guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster, spoke about his situation for the first time this spring.
Then there’s Austin Wynns, who singled during the first live batting practice of the spring, prompting manager Gabe Kapler to discuss him during his interview session Saturday.
“He was swinging like he was competing,” Kapler said, noting that many hitters chose to just stand in and track pitches early in the spring. “But to see a guy come out and take it like it’s an actual at-bat and understand why he’s taking it like that — he knows he’s competing. And that was a really good first impression in camp.”
Wynns can be something of an afterthought after being designated for assignment this winter and then re-signed to a minor-league deal. He’s not even lockering in the same clubhouse as his teammates from last year; he’s in an auxiliary clubhouse with most of the rest of the nonroster invitees. (Peréz and outfielder Stephen Piscotty, who have significantly more service time, are in the big-league clubhouse.)
Wynns filled a void for the Giants last year after Curt Casali was dealt to the Mariners. Wynns was in the plus in WAR, at 0.4, batted .259 and had a 3.76 catcher’s ERA. By the end of the season, he was catching all of Carlos Rodón’s starts and most of Logan Webb’s.
“He gave great at-bats, grinding out at-bats,” catching coach Craig Albernaz said. “And defensively, he made great strides learning the pitches, making adjustments. He was above average receiving, he threw the ball well, he blocked balls extremely well, he built great relationships with the pitchers. Austin is just solid.”
This is not a new position for Wynns, coming to camp and trying to win a job. He always has to do so.
“He believes he’s a big-leaguer and that he belongs in the big leagues. He’s not unfamiliar with having to fight for it,” Kapler said. “I think he would have loved the opportunity to come into camp as one of our two major-league catchers, but he understands that that’s not a luxury most catchers have. They have to earn it over a long period of time.”
Pressing buttons: Starter Alex Cobb, who told The Chronicle on Wednesday that he plans to call his own games this year, now that pitchers have the means to do so with PitchCom, tried it out for the first time Saturday.
“Everyone’s said it’s fast, and it will take some time to adjust to it,” Cobb said after his bullpen session. “That was the first time even feeling the buttons and I remember the catchers saying it was a struggle last year.”
(The recorded voice on the Giants’ PitchCom this year is Albernaz, who has a thick Boston accent, so pitchers also will have to learn not to laugh every time they hear “CUHVE ball.”)
Long plans: For two years, left-hander Sam Long has bounced between the Giants and Triple-A Sacramento, and this year probably will be more of the same.
He’s fully healed from the oblique strain that ended his 2022 season and he’s back in the mix for a long-man spot in the bullpen.
“When Sam came into camp in 2021, he was just electric, everybody was like, ‘Oh my gosh, have you seen Sam?’ Since then he’s had some successes, he’s had some struggles,” Kapler said. “What helps him take a major step forward is the development of that changeup and then continuing to have the stuff and hold the stuff through his outings whether those are relief or bulk outings.”