For years, Buster Posey has taken the same approach to spring training.
He's the leader of the pack when Giants catchers gather in mid-February, and he takes that responsibility seriously, leading young catchers around Scottsdale Stadium as they do blocking drills, work on catching pop-ups in the sun, make throws down to second, and catch bullpen sessions.
From Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac to Trevor Brown and Aramis Garcia, Posey has taken on a leadership role, and it's not uncommon to see the face of the franchise being followed by three or four young catchers on those early Arizona mornings.
Posey will catch as many young pitchers as he can, familiarizing himself with new repertoires. Last year it was Shaun Anderson, the organization's top prospect at the time, who got the tap on the shoulder and the message that Posey would catch his first bullpen session of the year. This year, perhaps Sean Hjelle will get that call.
When the games start, Posey always gets a couple dozen at-bats, primarily in front of the home fans in Scottsdale. It's a well-worn routine, but this year, there will be two significant changes.
For the first time, Posey won't be playing for Bruce Bochy. And for the first time, he has real competition in his rearview mirror. Joey Bart is one of the top prospects in the game and should debut at some point this season.
Bart will be in camp with Posey for the second time, and they'll be the ones who draw nearly all of the attention. But there is a battle to be won at the catcher spot, and it doesn't involve those two. In the first installment of a series of position breakdowns that'll get you ready for spring training, we take a look at the catchers and what's at stake as they spend six weeks in Arizona ...
What's at stake: During spring training? Nothing. With Madison Bumgarner gone, Posey is the undisputed face of the franchise, and not much will change under Gabe Kapler. Perhaps the Giants will move him around in the lineup a bit more, but it's not like they really added anything over the winter, and there's not much in Posey's way when it comes to regularly hitting third or fourth.
The Giants are cautiously optimistic that some of Posey's production will return now that he's nearly a year and a half removed from major hip surgery. Even in 2018, on a bad hip, he batted .284 with a .359 on-base percentage. A return to those numbers, with a bit more power, would get Posey back to All-Star-caliber play given all he does defensively. Posey didn't want to count on "a normal offseason" but did say at the end of the 2019 season that he would be making some tweaks.
By all accounts, Posey has been a sounding board for Kapler. They speak often and did so even before the hire was made official. It'll be interesting to see if a fresh start leads to a bit of a bounce-back for a catcher entering his 12th big league camp. At some point, Posey will have to compete with Bart for playing time -- but we're not there yet.
What's at stake: Bart either is the first or second-best prospect in the organization, depending upon who you ask, and one of the top-two catching prospects in the minors, close enough to his big league debut that there's a fair amount at stake in Scottsdale.
Bart, 23, hit 16 homers in 79 games in the minors last year and four in 30 at-bats in the Fall League before he got hurt. His defense is advanced, and before he fractured his hand in April, he was completely shutting down opposing base runners.
The Giants plan to have Bart in Triple-A for at least a couple of months, but his bat can force the issue and that's a process that can start in Scottsdale. Christian Arroyo opened eyes with strong at-bats in 2017 and was up in the big leagues by the end of April, and the current front office is more aggressive with prospects than the previous one. Every start Bart makes -- and he should get plenty in Scottsdale since Posey usually sits out most of the Cactus League season -- is an opportunity to prove he's ready.
What's at stake: This is where we get into the real competition, and Garcia, who seemingly has been around forever, figures to finally get his shot at the backup job. The 27-year-old is a regular at big league camp and impressed down the stretch in 2018, but the Giants went out and got Vogt, and then picked up Tom Murphy and Erik Kratz to try and fill the gap until Vogt was fully healthy.
Garcia ended up spending most of his year in Triple-A and hit just .143 with two homers in 42 big league at-bats. But this time around, the Giants are throwing him into a true competition -- or at least they say they are. It should be noted that Murphy and Kratz weren't added until the end of March last year.
There's no Vogt in the wings, though, and for now, Garcia joins Posey as the only catchers on the 40-man roster.
"We'd like to see him get an opportunity," Farhan Zaidi said of Garcia at the Winter Meetings. "He's putting in a lot of work this offseason and he's a guy we would like to see get an opportunity as well. I guess we're not closed off to (adding) but we have some good young catching depth and at some point we want to create opportunities for these guys."
What's at stake: The Giants were excited to add him as a non-roster invitee, and Heineman will get a real shot to grab the backup job. The 28-year-old has just 11 big league at-bats, but he's a switch-hitter, and that gives him a slight edge on the competition right away.
The Giants took advantage of Vogt's left-handed bat last season and essentially had a platoon behind the plate at times, and Heineman brings the type of versatility they're looking for. If he can win a spot on the 40-man roster, there's a chance he shows staying power regardless of what Bart does, as the Giants have a 26th roster spot to play with now.
Heineman was an eighth-round pick out of UCLA in 2012 and has a .285/.363/.416 slash line in the minors with low strikeout rates. He also does magic tricks, which probably doesn't help you in a roster battle, but certainly comes in handy when the veterans call you up to the front of the room to break up the monotony of the spring.
What's at stake: Tromp isn't as experienced as the others on this list -- with just 80 games above Double-A -- but he'll be in camp as a non-roster invitee with a chance to build on a solid 2019.
Tromp had shoulder surgery in 2018 but came back last year to slash .286/.389/.610 in 26 Triple-A games. The Giants like the defensive profile and it's rare that you can add a 24-year-old catcher to your organization as a non-roster invitee. For now, Tromp is viewed more as a depth piece.
What's at stake: The 30-year-old was a late addition to the non-roster crowd, and while he has plenty of big-league experience, perhaps his biggest advantage in a bid for the backup job right now is the 2019 season he spent in Triple-A. Brantly played 82 games for the Phillies' top affiliate and one game in the big leagues, so Kapler is familiar with him. He had a .314/.404/.462 slash line in Triple-A.
As a left-handed hitter, Brantly has another small edge, and he does have more experience than anyone else in this crowd. Brantly got 323 at-bats for the Marlins in 2012-13 and scattered time for the White Sox in 2015 and 2017. In all, he has a .229/.294/.332 slash line in 126 big league games, with seven homers.