Posey Does It All
Florida State's catcher also takes the mound, at last
When Florida State sophomore second baseman Jason Stidham strained his quadriceps in a midweek game against UNC Asheville, the Seminoles put first-team preseason All-American catcher Buster Posey in the lineup at second base the next day.
Why not? Posey hadn't played the position since his freshman year of high school six years ago, but that didn't stop him from looking like a natural in his one-game cameo at the keystone sack.
"He's a guy that will do whatever it takes to help his team win," Florida State coach Mike Martin said. "He enjoys competing. He's a true leader in every sense of the word. He's just one of those complete players that you hate not to take advantage of his ability. "
Nothing seems out of Posey's reach on the baseball diamond. A shortstop and righthander at Georgia's Lee County High, many scouts regarded him more highly as a pitcher for his polished four-pitch mix (one even called him a "high school version of Greg Maddux, when he's on"). A potential second-round talent, Posey's strong commitment to FSU caused him to slip to the Angels in the 50th round of the 2005 draft. He stepped right into Florida State's starting shortstop job as a freshman in 2006 and batted .346/.433/.467 with four homers, 48 RBIs and nine steals in nine attempts. He didn't pitch an inning that year, instead focusing on handling the everyday shortstop duties. Then, as a sophomore, Posey moved behind the plate and made just one appearance on the mound.
"Fortunately my first year, we had some really good arms, and it was nice to be able to just concentrate on shortstop," Posey said. "Last year, my first year catching, it was nice to focus solely on catching. I like pitching, but if I have a choice, I like to play every day and be in the lineup. That's baseball to me. It's a game that you play every day. I think that's why I have enjoyed catching."
The conversion to backstop was FSU assistant Mike Martin Jr.'s idea. Posey was a good shortstop, if a step short in range to play the position professionally, but the younger Martin figured his arm strength, athleticism and intelligence would make him a natural behind the plate. The older Martin admits he wasn't too keen on the idea, but in the fall of Posey's sophomore year, he allowed Posey to receive a few 85 mph fastballs from the pitching machine to see if he could handle it.
"The first three pitches, I honestly said, 'You've got to be kidding me.' He looked like he had been catching for three of four years," Martin said. "There was no awkwardness with the way he walked with the shin guards, there was no awkwardness with squatting and receiving. What Buster understands, and this is what's so important, is there's always a lot of room for improvement. He understands that and works to get better. You don't wonder with him back there. He'll throw to any base, at any time."
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Posey has impressed scouts with his agility behind the plate as well as his arm. But it's his leadership skills and grinder mentality that makes Martin gush most of all. A very cerebral player, Posey has also won FSU's Golden Torch Award, given to the player with the highest grade-point average on the team. That intelligence translates well behind the plate.
"I think it fits me mentality-wise as well as physically," Posey said of catching. "I think the more you look at some of the up-and-coming catchers in the big leagues now like Russell Martin with the Dodgers, and look at some of the veterans like Pudge Rodriguez, I think the position is changing. Instead of your big guy behind the plate, you're seeing more athletic catchers."
It's not just Posey's defensive talent that makes him a lock for the first round in June. He batted .382/.453/.520 in his All-America sophomore year and is off to a .391/.494/.703 start as a junior. He has a smooth, line-drive stroke and the ability to use the whole field and make adjustments at the plate, but his power is developing; he entered the year with seven career homers in 492 at-bats, but he has slugged five homers through his first 64 at-bats this spring.
Catching, clearly, is Posey's future, but he had some unfinished business on the mound. The Seminoles are utilizing him in one-inning stints as a closer this spring, to excellent results so far. Through three appearances, Posey has two saves, a 0.00 ERA and three strikeouts. One scout who has seen him off the mound said Posey worked in the 89-92 mph range with a fastball that showed some life, and he complemented it with a solid curveball. Posey said he still throws his changeup occasionally but has ditched his slider.
Naturally, Martin has no trouble talking about all the ways Posey helps the Seminoles.
"When you've got a guy who was an All-America quality shortstop as a freshman, then moves behind the plate as a sophomore and turns into a catcher/closer his junior year, it's kind of hard to stop talking about him," Martin said. "Some people have success, and they get to thinking they've got it all figured out. Buster has success and realizes that it's a day-to-day game. You can't get up or down on a day-to-day basis."
Now, Posey is trying to pass that even-keeled approach on to his younger brother Jack, a freshman with the Seminoles.
"I try to guide him, try to put myself in his situation when I was a freshman and what was going through my mind," Buster said. "The main thing is I try to get him to just enjoy himself. I think I get a little more nervous when he's batting than he is when he's hitting."
That might be the only time Buster Posey gets nervous.
"From Day One, he's never been intimidated," Martin said. "He's never been fearful of failing. Buster's a baseball player; that's the only way you can say it."