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Joey Bart Learns From The Best

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(Four Seam Images)

Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall has long had an eye for catchers—and not just good catchers. The transformative kind. The kind that win you championships.

In 1994, a young man by the name of Jason Varitek would lead the Yellow Jackets to the College World Series and win BA’s College Player of the Year award. Ten years later, Varitek helped lead the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years. He finished off his career by being named the historic franchise’s third-ever team captain and earning yet another ring in 2007.

That same year, the Orioles drafted 6-foot-5 switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters out of Georgia Tech with the fifth overall pick. Wieters appeared in four All-Star Games as an Oriole, won two Gold Gloves and signed with the Nationals prior to the 2017 season.

This year, Hall and the Yellow Jackets have another elite catching talent primed to go in the first round. But can he make the same sort of impact that Varitek and Wieters made at the pro level?

Is Joey Bart the next great Georgia Tech catcher?

“I think he’s right there with them,” Hall said. “I think, No. 1, he’s a really, really hard worker. He has a high baseball IQ. And if you look at a Varitek or a Wieters, I think it’s why those guys hang around for a long time—because they understand the game. And I think they understand how to get the best out of the pitchers that they’re catching.

“And I think Joey’s right there.”

The top catcher in this year’s draft class, Bart presents the rare, highly sought-after combination of power at the plate and defensive prowess behind it. Thickly built at 6-foot-3, the righthanded hitter is on pace for his best offensive season, batting .352/.450/.620 with eight home runs through 108 at-bats. But his value goes well beyond offense. Hall and his coaching staff have a tremendous amount of trust in Bart’s defensive ability. Not only does Bart have a plus throwing arm, but the Yellow Jackets mostly let him call his own games—something that simply doesn’t happen at the college level, where pitch-calling is often micromanaged.

“It’s a rarity in college baseball, but he probably calls upwards of 95 percent of the pitches that get called in a game,” Hall said. “Joey’s doing it. And in my opinion, I think he’s doing a really good job.”

Hall has known Bart since he was about 12 years old, so there’s been plenty of time to build that trust. Bart played for the same teams growing up as Hall’s son, Carter, who is also a junior at Georgia Tech.

Hall was impressed with Bart’s work ethic then and remains so now. The young catcher has surrounded himself with some of the brightest catching minds in the game and has made every effort to learn from them. He played for renowned catching instructor Jerry Weinstein in the Cape Cod League the summer before his sophomore year—his first year as Georgia Tech’s full-time catcher. While at Tech, Bart has studied under the tutelage of assistant coach Mike Nickeas, a former big league catcher and a Tech album. Bart has also had the opportunity to get to know Wieters, who still lives in Atlanta and works out with the Jackets during the offseason.

Bart said the lessons he picked up from Wieters this past offseason have already proven invaluable.

“A lot of mental stuff, nothing to really do with the actual game physically, just the way you approach batters. Pitch-calling is huge,” Bart said of his conversations with Wieters. “Another thing is the way he maintains his body. Those little secrets in there are very important because being a catcher, catching every game, if you don’t take care of yourself, stuff’s gonna happen. It’s happened to me. I’m just trying to stay on top of that kind of stuff.

“How he keeps his body up—and he catches three times as many games as I do—so whatever he’s doing is certainly going to help me.”

Bart missed the last 11 games of his sophomore season with a hand injury, but he started 27 of the first 28 games this year.

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The Beavers defeated the Bulldogs, 5-2, to move into the CWS Finals—against Arkansas—for the first time since they won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.

The junior has evolved in every facet of his game, and in particular, Hall said Bart has made the biggest strides in his leadership. Batting second in the order, Bart is the name in the lineup opposing teams circle, and he’s a large reason why Georgia Tech got off to a 17-11 start (6-6 in ACC play). He’s taken ownership of this Yellow Jackets squad, which is just the way he likes it. He said his confidence is at an all-time high.

“Knowing that this is my team . . . to lead, and setting the example with work ethic and trying to let everyone know that I’m coming and I hope you guys are coming with me—that’s really helped me out,” Bart said. “And it’s been a lot of fun.”

In addition to his progress behind the plate, Bart has made tweaks to his batting stance and has shown an overall improvement in his approach at the plate. As a freshman, Bart’s stance was more spread out. He had a hard time catching up to velocity on the inner half and was susceptible to breaking balls away. He now has a far more upright posture at the plate, standing taller and looser, allowing him to tap into his plus raw power more often in games. Hall noted that Bart is chasing fewer breaking balls, and his improved strikeout rate would seem to support that. Scouts grade Bart as at least an average hitter with plus power, but he’s made gains as a pure hitter, and he spends hours at a time in the batting cage working on just that.

Growing up in Buford, Ga., Bart is certainly cognizant of the great catchers who have come through Georgia Tech. While he hopes to someday be talked about in a similar light, Bart said he’s trying to direct all of his focus on the present and enjoy what should be his final year with the Yellow Jackets.

Still, there’s no question that Bart is already adding to the school’s rich catching legacy. “Georgia Tech, we’ve got a powerhouse,” Bart said. “Whoever’s next up—it’s a tradition, man. That’s what we do. We catch. We hit homers. That’s the tradition at Tech.”

And that’s Joey Bart.

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