Tyler Heineman

Buster Posey's best trait, as told by Giants' backup catcher candidates

Buster Posey's best trait, as told by Giants' backup catcher candidates

Rob Brantly and Tyler Heineman joined the Giants at an interesting time. Both are catchers who spent most of last season in Triple-A, and over the offseason they chose to join an organization that's as set at catcher as any in the sport. 

Buster Posey is preparing for his 10th consecutive Opening Day behind the plate, and the Giants have top prospect Joey Bart on the fast track. Even before COVID-19 reshuffled the decks, Bart looked like a decent bet to debut sometime this summer and join Posey as an imposing duo for years to come. 

Brantly and Heineman knew they had to thread the needle to get big league playing time, but they liked the opportunity in San Francisco. Once they arrived, they both learned the same thing about the Giants' catching situation.

Heineman was on last week's Giants Insider Podcast and Brantly joined this week. Both talked about how Posey's leadership stood out right away in camp, and how the face of the franchise made sure the catching group embraced communication and collaboration.

"I think what makes him different than superstars that I've been with is he makes you feel welcome because he asks you questions about how you do stuff," Heineman said. "It makes it seem like he's just continually trying to evolve and learn, and it also makes you feel like you're better than you think you are.

"He boosts your ego because he says, 'I like the way you do this, why do you do this?' It's like, wow, Buster Posey likes the way I do this. It strengthens the bond between you guys."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Brantly felt that too, and he pointed out that Posey was even collaborative with young prospect Ricardo Genoves, who came to camp as a 20-year-old. Genoves, Bart and Chad Tromp rounded out a catching group that looked especially close while going through daily drills. 

"I think that's so important," Brantly said. "Him as a leader, as that figure on our team, it makes you feel so much more a part of it, especially for a guy who is just coming in like Tyler or myself or even someone like Geno who is coming up from a lower level. Same thing, he would have conversations with him. 

"The impact it has on a young guy like that, you can't even imagine."

[RELATED: How Kapler will sell undrafted players on Giants]

Posey, now 33, is reaching the point where younger players are coming in and saying they grew up watching him. Brantly, 30, and Heineman, 28, aren't quite part of that group, but they still have admired Posey from afar and were eager to soak up as much as they could this spring. 

"Buster, when he speaks, he commands a lot of respect, even with the guys who have been there a while," Brantly said. "He's a leader and being around that kind of atmosphere, being around that person, you just pay attention. You watch how he goes about his day-to-day and what makes him him, what makes Buster Buster, and you learn a lot."

On this week's podcast, Brantly also spoke about his creative Instagram workouts, the differences he sees between Gabe Kapler from last year to this year, pitchers who stood out in camp and his journey through different organizations. You can download it on iTunes here. 

Giants newcomer Tyler Heineman impressed teammates with card tricks

Giants newcomer Tyler Heineman impressed teammates with card tricks

The most nerve-wracking moment for a new player in Giants camp might not take place on the field. At some point, every spring, the newcomers and young players are introduced to the rest of the team, and often times they're asked to provide some form of entertainment. It's not uncommon to hear roars coming from the clubhouse as a young player tries to make his way through a song. 

For Tyler Heineman, a non-roster invitee trying to win the job behind Buster Posey, there was never any doubt about what he could do to ingratiate himself to new teammates. At previous stops, clips of Heineman doing magic tricks for teammates made it out onto social media and the internet, so the Giants veterans naturally had some curiosity. Heineman is always happy to bust out his playing cards and tricks. 

"It was awesome," he said on this week's Giants Insider Podcast. "I tried to get Johnny Cueto involved in a trick but right when I was doing tricks to some guys I was like, 'Cueto, I want to do one for you,' and he was like 'No, no Papi. Oh no. I'll watch but I'm not getting involved."

Heineman showed off those skills after talking about baseball and his career on this week's podcast. About 35 minutes into a Zoom call he moved the camera to reveal a setup for card tricks had been there all along. Here's some of what he can do:

Heineman has kept it going since spring training was abruptly cut short, doing tricks for Giants fans on Twitter and interacting with those who are getting to know one of the team's newest players. He said that's something he never takes for granted, and last week he sent out a cool message to Giants fans:

Heineman is mostly self-taught. He learned magic tricks by watching YouTube videos, and at some point, he started picking up moves from a friend he met at a magic store. He also happens to be a switch-hitting catcher with a history of high on-base percentages in the minors and the type of eye Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Gabe Kapler are looking for at the plate. When camp was halted, Heineman was competing with Rob Brantly for the backup catcher job. They're hoping to pick that up again soon. As fun as the tricks are, Heineman would rather be on the field right now. 

[RELATED: Why Tyler Heineman passed up Harvard]

"I've gotten asked to be on America's Got Talent and my agent was like, 'You've got to hold off on this, you still have a potential career in baseball,'" he said. "'So let's explore the baseball career and try to stick in the big leagues before you can go to magic.'"

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

How Tyler Heineman's path to Giants began in unlikely fashion at UCLA

How Tyler Heineman's path to Giants began in unlikely fashion at UCLA

As much as he enjoyed working with Mauricio Dubon last September, it surely stung Brandon Crawford just a little a bit to hear the young shortstop so often tell stories about how he had grown up watching Crawford. Another Giant inadvertently piled on this spring.

Tyler Heineman knows all about Crawford's championships and Gold Gloves, but he also is very familiar with Brandon Crawford the UCLA Bruins star. Heineman grew up a few miles from campus and used to go watch Crawford play games in college. He was excited to point that out when they met this spring. 

"I was like 'I watched you play when I was in middle school and high school,'" Heineman said on this week's Giants Insider Podcast. "He was like, 'Wow, that's the first thing you say? You come up to me and say that, making me feel really old?' But he had a good sense of humor about it so it was fun."

Crawford, famous for his deadpan delivery, is five years older than Heineman but already knew who he was because he still follows UCLA's sporting scene. It's one Heineman very nearly wasn't part of at all, though. When he was preparing to graduate from the small Windward School in Los Angeles, Heineman, an undersized catcher at the time, was faced with a choice.

Go to Harvard and play right away, or go to UCLA and be the bullpen catcher?

"My mom still gives me crap because I got an offer to play at Harvard and start as a freshman and probably play for four years," Heineman said. "My high school and travel ball coaches still give me crap for it, but I always wanted to go to UCLA."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Heineman had attended UCLA camps as a kid and always dreamed of putting on their colors and following in the footsteps of players like Crawford. But he was lightly recruited despite hitting .619 as a junior. As signing day approached, only Ivy League schools and some Division II programs had made offers. 

UCLA kept the door open, with one of the coaches telling Heineman he liked his spirit and could join as a bullpen catcher and fight for more playing time. That was good enough for Heineman, who enrolled at UCLA at the same time as another former Giants catcher, Trevor Brown.

Heineman got just eight at-bats as a freshman but saw increased time as a sophomore. He caught a bit of a break before his junior year when local standout Austin Hedges -- now a Padre -- chose to sign instead of attending UCLA. Heineman started 52 games behind the plate, hitting .332 and raising it to .383 in Pac-12 action. That June, the decision to pass up the Harvard education looked like a smart one. Heineman was taken in the eighth round of by the Astros, starting a professional career that landed him in Giants camp this spring as a non-roster invitee.

[RELATED: How five-round draft impacts Giants]

When he hit free agency, Heineman again chose a path with some resistance. He came to the Giants knowing that Buster Posey was locked in as the starter and top prospect Joey Bart is knocking on the door. But Heineman felt it was a good place to continue learning, and when the Giants were sent home in mid-March, he was in a two-man battle with Rob Brantly for the backup job on Opening Day. 

"It has been a tough road but I think it kind of helped me with learning about perseverance," he said on the podcast. "You can make your own path if you're willing to work at it and never give up."