Sabol continues strong push for spot on Opening Day roster


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Blake Sabol sat in front of his locker earlier this week, excitedly showing off a couple of new arrivals. He's now the proud owner of orange-and-black gloves with "Sabes" printed on the side, although he might have to choose a new nickname if he makes the Giants roster. 

Through a month of camp, Sabol has done all he can to make that a real possibility.

It's hard to crack an Opening Day roster as a Rule 5 pick, and even trickier when you're a catcher who still is learning the intricacies of catching, but Sabol has shown that the bat might be ready for big-league pitching. He reached base in all five plate appearances Saturday and hit his third homer of the spring, tying him with Michael Conforto for the team lead and getting to 9 for 17 at the plate in Cactus League action. 

Sabol drew two walks, singled to right and put down a two-out bunt single before promptly stealing second. Throughout, he also showed that he might be one of the savvier and faster baserunners on the roster even though he's 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and lugs catcher's gear around.

The Giants had high expectations for Sabol when camp started. He's exceeding them. 

"I don't think you can ever expect anybody to come in and produce the way he has produced," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Blake is really locked-in at the plate right now, and ... this is spring training. So I think we can appreciate the quality of his plate appearances, how hard he's hitting the ball. And really the thing that's standing out the most is the baserunning. 

"Every ball he hits, he's running like it's a regular season game and the game is on the line and I just think that earns a lot of respect from teammates and coaches. He's showing you a lot of different aspects of his game, so we just want to try and get him as many reps as possible for the rest of camp."

A day after catching, Sabol started at DH and showed off what would be elite athleticism for a big-league catcher. His first time up, he put down a bunt for a base hit and then stole second. After a single to right in the third, he went first-to-third on Casey Schmitt's single up the middle. 

The baserunning stood out to Kapler, as well as the fact that he took advantage of the defensive alignment. The two walks came after Sabol already had three hits, a good show of patience from a young hitter trying to make an impact. 

"He knows that we're always going to get excited about waiting a pitcher out and showing discipline at the plate," Kapler said. 

Sabol's best day came hours after one of his worst of the spring. He struggled defensively on Friday, but the Giants have been happy with how far he has come with the glove after entering camp with fewer than 100 professional games in the squat. 

"There's positive feedback across the board," from pitchers, Kapler said. "I mean, look, he's not going to get outworked, and when you have somebody that's not going to get outworked you get instant respect from pitchers."

After talking to the media, Kapler spent several minutes with Sabol on the dugout bench, laying out what's next. It might be a return to something familiar. 

The new gloves have plenty of friends in Sabol's locker. He was an outfielder before converting to catcher and also has some experience at first base. That versatility would seem to give him a leg up, but the Giants thus far have used him exclusively as a catcher. 

Kapler and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said at the start of camp that it would be a four-man competition for two catching jobs, and there's not much clarity nearly a month later. 

Joey Bart, the incumbent, is 4-for-10 with two doubles and a homer and has done a good job of throwing to bases. Veteran Roberto Perez entered as the likely backup to Bart, and while he hasn't hit much, coaches and pitchers rave about his work behind the plate. Alex Cobb called Perez "a magician" defensively after working with him Saturday. Austin Wynns was an early standout in workouts but is just 1-for-11 in games. 

There might be another path for Sabol, though. Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater are both currently sidelined with injuries, and while the Giants hope both are ready for Opening Day, there's a decent chance they need an extra outfielder when they show up at Yankee Stadium in 19 days. 

Zaidi bet on Connor Joe in his first season in charge of the Giants and it later became clear that they gave up on him too soon. Sabol comes with the same Rule 5 restrictions: The Giants must have him on their Opening Day roster or offer him back to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The first possibility is looking more and more likely by the day, and Sabol took a huge step Saturday. As he sat in the dugout afterward, he said it wasn't too difficult to move past a disappointing start Friday and again put his best foot forward. He's always been pretty good at turning the page and taking confidence up to the plate. 

"Honestly, I was a really cocky little kid," he said, laughing. "My dad always (says), 'Blake, you know why I always thought you were going to make it? It's because you were your own biggest fan.'"

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Sabol is making plenty of them within the organization, but there's a long way to go. The Giants will continue to work with him behind the plate to see if he can be part of the mix there, but Kapler said Sabol also will see some outfield appearances soon. Sabol is ready for it. 

"I've got a brand new cool-looking outfield glove that I'm excited to use," he said. 

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