Posey’s readiness prompts Molina trade

SAN FRANCISCO – From a strategic position 90 feet away, Buster Posey(notes) accumulated pertinent information and created internal files. The data is committed to memory, neatly organized and readily accessible.

Buster Posey might be the most nondescript member of this year's pool of talented rookies.
(Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire)

Posey played first base for the San Francisco Giants for a month through the eyes of a catcher. He didn’t don tools of ignorance, or squat pitch uncomfortable after pitch, or take foul tips off exposed fingertips. He built dossiers on opposing hitters, noticed who chased breaking balls early in counts, who swung through neck-high fastballs, who froze on backdoor sliders.

Asked recently whether he planned to deploy his arsenal of info when he took over as the team’s everyday catcher, Posey revealed the barest hint of a smile and said, ”Maybe a little bit.”

That day has arrived. The Giants traded veteran catcher Bengie Molina(notes) to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night for reliever Chris Ray(notes) and a player to be named, swinging open the door behind the dish for Posey.

The only odd aspect of handing him the job now is that he has struggled with the bat since June 10, when he was batting .444 with an OPS of 1.079. He’s 8-for-52 since then, his average has dropped to .289 and now comes the added responsibility of handling the pitching staff.

”He’s definitely talented,” Giants starter Barry Zito(notes) said. ”It’s just a matter of him getting innings back there and feeling more comfortable. He’s definitely capable of doing everything you need to do.”

The newest G-man is button-down, no-nonsense and mature beyond his years. Posey carries himself as if he was born in the big leagues. He might be the most nondescript member of this deep pool of talented MLB rookies, but he’s a standout, mild-mannered yet battle-tested.

Posey, 23, didn’t begin the season in the big leagues for two reasons. Additional experience behind the plate was justified because he’d only begun catching as a Florida State sophomore in 2007. And keeping him in the minors until early June ensured he won’t become arbitration eligible until 2014 instead of 2013. The Giants made the mistake of promoting Tim Lincecum(notes) too soon in 2007, and it could cost them as much as $20 million.

Posey, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, received a $6.2 million signing bonus and quickly asserted himself in the minor leagues, batting .333 with 25 homers and 118 RBIs in 172 games across four levels in parts of three seasons. He made a strong impression at every stop.

”It was a thrill to have a kid who lived up to the hype,” said Andy Skeels, manager of the Giants’ Single-A team in San Jose, Calif., last year and currently manager of the Double-A club in Richmond, Va. ”This is a guy who wants to be great. He doesn’t expect anything to be handed to him. It’s refreshing to know how much it matters to him.”

Skeels recalled a game at Modesto, a farm community in the blistering-hot San Joaquin Valley. The San Jose Giants were getting beat badly and the game was in the late innings.

”It’s about 107 degrees, and here he is sliding hard and breaking up a double play,” Skeels said. ”I thought to myself, ‘Here is a kid trying to win.’ A catcher doing that. It says a lot. That’s how his leadership shows.”

The culture of the Giants is one of toughness. It starts at the top with rugged general manager Brian Sabean and Bochy, and permeates through a clubhouse that features blue-collar types such as Aaron Rowand(notes) and Aubrey Huff(notes). Posey is a smart college kid – he held a 3.9 grade-point average at Lee County High and twice was an Academic All-American at Florida State – whose white collar gets the necessary stains.

Posey became a catcher in 2007 only because Florida State didn’t have one. He was the team’s shortstop as a freshman and had posted a 22-1 record as a pitcher his last two years in high school.

”It started out of necessity, sort of, ‘Let’s try this out and see how it works.’ ” Posey said. ”I was pleasantly surprised.”

Posey’s education behind the plate accelerated after he signed with the Giants. Skeels is a former catcher, as was Posey’s manager at Triple-A, Steve Decker.

”Buster’s getting the crash course,” Decker said last season. “We’re cramming for finals. He’s not going to get the time in the minors that most catchers do. So every time he comes back to the dugout, we’re talking about what just happened.”

Sabean and Bochy pulled Posey aside before last Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox and gauged his readiness. Posey told the brass that although handling the pitching staff would become his top priority, he believes he can contribute offensively as well. He’d better: The Giants have scored the sixth-fewest runs in baseball and rank in the bottom third of nearly every offensive category.

Sabean and Bochy clearly came away convinced. Less than a week later, the job is Posey’s.

Steve Henson is a Senior Writer and Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
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Updated Thursday, Jul 1, 2010