Programming note: Giants Insider Andrew Baggarly is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
TEMPE, Ariz. – How would you like your cleanup man to do this:
Hit .385 with 28 home runs and 120 RBIs. Post a .456 on-base percentage and 1.102 OPS. Hit 46 doubles. Oh, why not, toss in two triples.
Those are Buster Posey’s numbers if you take his second half from 2012 and multiply by two. Those are the numbers that Giants hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, hand on a Bible, believes Posey can provide this season.
The conversation began with a simple question: Have we seen the best of Buster yet?
“Well, that’s what I go back to – that second half of 2012,” said Meulens, of Posey’s late-summer tear that won him a batting title and NL MVP award. “I don’t know if you’ll get much better than that, to be honest. But to be that good consistently ... I'm not thinking he has that in him. I know he has that in him.”
Posey wants that consistency from the very first pitch he sees this season. That’s why, when Meulens arrived at Scottsdale Stadium the day after FanFest, he found Posey already in the cage. They worked one-on-one for 10 days before the first pitchers began to filter into the clubhouse.
“We had a jumpstart on everyone else,” Meulens said. “So from that point he was very committed to making sure he had a consistent year, the year we already know he can have.”
Posey would never admit it, but part of his motivation was a frustrating second half last year when he hit .244 with just two home runs. His slugging percentage plummeted from .536 before the break to .310 after it.
It was the first time in Posey’s baseball life that he had to play out the string, and while it’s not his nature to mentally drift, the combination of a taxing first-half workload and no pennant adrenaline jolt made the final two months a grind.
“I know Buster,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s a professional and he knows he has to give it his all and he does that. Fatigue, I do think that became an issue. Was it frustrating to play it out like that? I’m sure. But you’re talking about Buster, and there’s also a lot of pride involved.”
Meulens uses another word to describe what drives Posey.
“Perfect,” he said. “That’s what he strives to be – perfect.”
So … have we seen the best of Buster?
“I don’t think so,” Bochy said. “He’s a tremendous hitter and athlete and I don’t think those kinds of players ever stop trying to improve. That’s Buster’s mindset. You look at different parts of your game and you’re always trying to make them better, whether it’s hitting for more power or hitting doubles. Those things are only going to get better with him.”
Ah, that’s the great temptation. When most hitters break into the big leagues, their first concern is not to look overmatched. See some pitches, get some hits. When they begin to have some success, when the average looks better than respectable, then they branch out. They start thinking a little bigger.
Posey isn’t like most hitters. There’s a difference between believing a player will hit for more power and believing they will try to hit for more power. That’s why Bochy has no reservations about keeping Posey in the cleanup spot against right-handers this season (and possibly bumping him up to third against lefties). Some players would take a cleanup assignment and feel pressured to hit for more power. Posey insists that pressure doesn’t register with him.
“I think we all as hitters go through stretches when we get homer happy,” said Posey, who turns 27 on Thursday. “But the real good hitters are the ones that stay within themselves.”
That’s all that Meulens wants. He noted that Posey, with the offense struggling last season, began to try catching pitches out in front to hit home runs. As a result, he started rolling over balls he used to lace to right field.
“It’s all about controlling your strengths and don’t get away from them,” Meulens said. “He’s going to be fine if he just stays with that approach because he’s not a pull hitter. For the most part, they pitch him away, he’s got to go the other way.
“For him, being consistent is all part of staying fresh, staying strong, not getting beat down mentally, not worrying about everything else. Just control your at-bat and control your strengths day in and day out, at-bat to at-bat.”
“Well, you saw it (in Glendale) the other day,” Meulens said. “Bases loaded, two outs, he gets to two strikes and he singles and drives in two. I took him aside and applauded him for that.”
Mechanically, there wasn’t much for Posey to address this spring. His swing is so fluid and well timed, he didn’t need to reinvent anything. There will be times when his bat speed drags a bit in the second half and he might want to shorten his stride. Other than that, Meulens only pointed out one flaw this spring, when Posey’s hands began to waggle too briskly and it slowed down his load. Meulens showed him film and Posey made the fix.
“He’s ... well, you know. He’s a natural,” Meulens said. “There’s not much he should be changing anyway.”
That doesn’t mean the hitting coach sets his cleanup hitter on autopilot. In fact, Meulens said he ends up spending more time with Posey than most hitters on the club.
“That’s because he’s very thorough and he has a good brain and he’s always using it,” Meulens said. “There’s a thought process with every at-bat, every pitch. We talk after every one. He wants the information. He wants the feedback. He wants the assurance he was in a good position, he didn’t collapse, didn’t fly open, all that stuff.”
It appears that Posey achieved the goals he set when he arrived early this spring. He got locked in early, and he’s stayed that way. He’s hitting .410 with a .477 on-base percentage and two home runs, including a grand slam – an opposite-field drive. He has struck out once in 44 plate appearances.
“I think everybody wants to get locked in,” said Posey, in his typical downplaying manner. “Even though spring doesn’t count, you want to feel good. You want to use the time here to make sure you leave as ready as you can be.
“I want to be as productive as possible to help the team win. I think I have a good feel for how to do that.”
Given what Meulens is seeing this spring, are those 2012 numbers really possible this season?
“Yes. Absolutely,” Meulens said. “I’m not saying he never worked hard before because he always does whatever he needs to do to be ready, but I think he put in a little more time this spring in order to have a good start and have a consistent season. So I’m excited and I think if he stays in his mode we’re going to have a big year from him for sure.”
So, Buster, have we seen the best of Buster?
“I would hope not,” said Posey, brightening into a smile. “I’m still pretty young. I’d hope there’s room for improvement.”