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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 28, 2010

MLB: When does Buster Posey arrive for scoring-challenged Giants


By Mark Emmons
San Jose Mercury News

FRESNO, Calif. Buster Posey stood in the clubhouse after another successful day in the minors and stated the obvious.

"Of course I want to be there," Posey said, "right along with every other guy in this locker room."

"There" is San Francisco. And Posey's sentiment is shared by legions of Giants fans clamoring for their scoring-impaired team to call up the heralded catching prospect who is the fourth-leading hitter in the Pacific Coast League.

Unlike the masses, though, Posey claims no frustration about being in a Fresno Grizzlies uniform. Nor is he paying attention to the growing chorus that he already should be in the major leagues.

"It's easy to block out all that stuff because we play every day," Posey said. "I honestly don't read any articles. I do hear some things from other people. My wife knows what's going on, but she doesn't tell me about it. I'm just focused on working hard."

It has shown at the plate. After homering Wednesday night, Posey was hitting .343 with a .437 on-base percentage, six home runs and 30 RBIs in 45 games. Add the fact that the Giants are 14th in the National League in runs, and the result has been cries of: "Where's Posey?"

Fresno manager Steve Decker understands. He just doesn't happen to agree.

"Please, let people up there know that there is much more to being a catcher besides just what his batting average in the PCL is," Decker said. "I want Buster to be up there beating the hell out of the Dodgers for the next 10 years, not just trying to fill a hole for one year."

Posey, he added, is on the fast track. But for many Giants fans, it's not fast enough.

Company line

Two years into his pro career, Posey, 23, remains the same poised man-of-few-words he was when the Giants made him the fifth pick of the 2008 draft.

He also is way too sharp to say anything that differs from the Giants' company line that he continues to benefit from his minor league catching apprenticeship in ways that might elude many fans.

"I feel like I've improved receiving-wise, blocking the plate, game-calling," said Posey, who had 17 at-bats during a late-season call-up with the Giants in 2009. "It's all about repetition. I've caught a lot of games now. Catching is one of those things that the more you're out there, you're going to be in different situations. You learn from all of them."

He has started behind the plate in 32 games this season and has thrown out 44 percent of would-be base-stealers. Posey also has played first base in 10 other games usually day games after he has caught the previous night. While that has generated some buzz that maybe the Giants would bring him up and let him play first, Posey countered forcefully: "I'm a catcher."

Decker, a former major league catcher, was hand-picked by the Giants to tutor him. Decker never says his pupil is not ready. Instead, he describes Posey, who caught two years at Florida State after converting from shortstop, as being in the "middle" of a steep learning curve.

"Buster's getting the crash course," he said. "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. Every day is a class because there's an art to handling a major league staff."

That's why the Giants are being so careful not to rush the crown jewel of the farm system. For all the criticism of catcher Bengie Molina, who has slumped badly at the plate, he also is credited for his deft work with one of baseball's best pitching staffs.

"What happens if Buster goes to the big leagues tomorrow and those pitchers struggle?" Decker asked. "Who do you think the finger is going to be pointed at? People are going to say Buster is the reason, and I would hate for that to happen. So when Buster does get there, I want him to know what he's doing."

Or the Giants, desperate for hitting, could put him at first base. That, Decker added, wouldn't help his long-term development as a catcher.

"But that's Sabes' call," he said.

That would be Giants general manager Brian Sabean. He has said it can be difficult to evaluate players in the hitter-friendly PCL. He also has stressed that decisions about Posey are strictly baseball-related. (Some teams delay promoting prospects so they don't accrue enough major league days to become eligible for salary arbitration a year early.)

In reality, it's only a matter of time maybe even days or weeks before Posey is in San Francisco. And that will be just fine with many Giants supporters who fear that the team is wasting a stellar pitching staff with a popgun offense.

"He absolutely believes he should be up there," Decker said of Posey. "I know he believes he could hit 100 RBI in the big leagues right now. You want a player to have that confidence. But he's also smart enough to understand that he wants all of his weapons ready when he does go."

Defense improving

Fresno pitcher Madison Bumgarner, another touted Giants prospect, said he can see improvement in Posey's game-calling ability with each start he makes. Although they have developed an on-field rapport, there is one thing they never discuss getting called up.

"Neither one of us wants to get too far ahead of ourselves," Bumgarner said. "Our focus is that as long as we're here, let's try to be good for this team."

Posey said he doesn't wonder whenever he's summoned to Decker's office if it might be the moment when he's promoted.

"My approach is to stay grounded mentally," he said. "I'm just going to keep on working here."

Posey, by the way, has not been told of any timetable.

"I guess I'm just like everybody else," he said.

Waiting.

But because he has received such fanfare, there will be expectations for him to walk on water, not just infield grass, when he does arrive in San Francisco.

That's why Decker asked that another message be passed along.

"There will be a rough patch, and everyone needs to be patient with him," Decker said. "I hope the common fan gives him the benefit of the doubt when he goes through that phase and doesn't start griping, 'Oh, he's not as good as everybody says he is.' That's a lot of pressure to put on anybody, calling up a kid and asking him to lead a team."