MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Posey ready to be back behind the plate

Spencer: Posey ready to be back behind the plate

Posey ready to be back behind the plate
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Something extremely important -- his identity as the catcher, cleanup man and quiet leader of a World Series champion -- was taken from Buster Posey in a heartbeat last May.

He wants it back, all of it. Who can blame him? And who wouldn't want to see the guy get back to where he was, one of Major League Baseball's most appealing young stars, before he was so rudely interrupted?

Certainly not his employers. The San Francisco Giants are thrilled to see Posey on his haunches, looking fit and ready to resume catching after months of rehab on a lower left leg that required complex surgery to reattach three left ankle ligaments after his May 25 home-plate collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins.

Posey made it through his first Spring Training workout on Sunday, looking comfortable with the bat and the glove, and he was smiling in the afterglow, talking confidently about being there, gear on and geared up, when the Giants launch the 2012 season.

"Overall, the goal is to be behind the plate as much as I can," Posey said, acknowledging that he'll also get some break time at first base. "I think we're on the same page. I want to catch as long as I can."

This will be an ongoing dilemma for manager Bruce Bochy and the Giants' decision-makers, who have had lengthy discussions about what is best for Posey as a player and for the organization moving forward. They are committed to Posey as their No. 1 catcher with some time at first base in 2012, understanding what he means to the superb pitching staff.

But they also have "some good young catchers," Bochy said, "the best I've seen here."

If Tommy Joseph, Andrew Susac or Hector Sanchez proves capable of handling the job in 2013, the Giants should find a less physically demanding position for Posey.

He turns 25 a week before Opening Day and should be just entering a long, productive prime. He delivered 18 homers in 108 games as the National League Rookie of the Year in 2010, playing half his games in a graveyard for a hitter who generates so much of his power to right center.

At any position but catcher, Posey realistically is a .300 hitter in the 30-homer, 100-RBIs range for a decade. He is just coming into his full power, and he's the kind of athlete who keeps getting better as he figures things out.

Sure, he's a wonderful catcher, in the conversation defensively with Matt Wieters and Yadier Molina. But if he stays behind the plate, it's highly unlikely Posey will ever fulfill his offensive potential. Witness the great Johnny Bench, whose offensive decline came much too soon.

Catching beats you up. There is no protection against foul tips mashing fingers or foul bullets banging off masks, causing concussive activity in the brain.

Left field seems the logical spot for Posey, a pitcher and shortstop in his teens with the athleticism to play anywhere. He might not like the relative inactivity initially, but the feeling here is he'd soon start collecting Rawlings Gold Gloves in left.

He seemed to dismiss the whole notion when asked if there is any position where he'd feel uncomfortable.

"Left field ... center field, right field," he said, grinning. "I'm too slow."

Then he couldn't resist joking that if former teammate and good buddy Pat Burrell could handle it, who knows?

"Burrell's going to kill me," Posey said later, at his locker.

Bochy said he is placing restraints on Posey in blocking the plate. Posey said he'll try to prepare himself to avoid potential harm. But in the heat of the moment, game on the line and runner bearing down on him from third, who can anticipate what Posey, the fierce competitor, will do?

"It's tough to answer that question," he said. "When you're playing the game, you're doing everything you can to make plays. It's instinctual. You're trying to get that out. It's that simple."

Posey pointed out he wasn't covering the sliding lane when he was wiped out by Cousins, who came in like a running back turning the corner.

"I want to make it clear -- I wasn't blocking the plate to begin with," Posey said. He has watched the horrific video showing him to the side, just off the plate at AT&T Park, when the human locomotive arrived, ending his season.

It has entered Posey's mind, briefly, that playing another position might not be such a terrible idea.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "There were some thoughts a couple of nights after it happened that it wouldn't be bad to make a move."

But he's a team guy, a leader. He knows his full value now is behind the plate, taking those hits while trying to deliver them with the bat.

One more year. Then free Posey to be a healthy, hearty hit machine for the rest of his career.

Bochy, a catcher known more for his toughness than his bat before becoming one of the game's most respected managers, has spoken often -- and recently -- with Posey about the need not to allow this to happen again. This player is too valuable to lose if the Giants want to go back to the head of the class in the National League West.

Bochy also has lobbied with MLB officials, in vain thus far, to protect catchers the way the NFL does its punt returners.

Being a very tough kid, mentally as well as physically, Posey isn't about to let one hit knock him out of the box. He wants to catch -- a position he began playing as a sophomore at Florida State University -- and the Giants are obliging him. For now, at least.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.