Commentary

Posey, the consummate student-athlete, key to Florida State's success

Originally Published: April 15, 2008
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's not often Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin actually goes out and recruits players. The Hall of Fame coach leaves that job to his assistants.

[+] EnlargeBuster Posey
Mike Olivella, FSUBuster Posey has played nearly every position for the Noles.

Buster Posey, though, was different.

This one, they told him, he had to see.

Posey caught the attention of pro scouts as a junior at Lee County High School in Georgia with a 10-1 record on the mound and a 1.53 ERA. Even more impressive, though, was Posey's monstrous .544 batting average, school-record 46 RBIs and the fact he struck out just nine times. Posey was a legitimate two-way player -- he could pitch and hit. (Oh, and his 3.9 grade-point average wasn't too bad, either.)

Florida State had to get Posey before Major League Baseball did -- he was drafted by the Angels in the 50th round of the 2005 draft.

"When you've got a guy like that, you've got to send the boss out to close the deal," said Mike Martin Jr., the coach's son and one of his assistants. "We try not to do that often, but we had to."

It was a smart move.

What they didn't know is just how good Posey would be -- as a shortstop, a catcher and a closer.

After one season as an All-American shortstop (because the Seminoles needed one), Posey experimented with catcher (because the Seminoles needed one) -- despite never having played the position in his career. This season, as a junior, not only is Posey one of the best catchers in the country, but he is also the biggest bat and the top scholar in the lineup. Posey is a major reason Florida State (31-3) is in position to possibly face Miami for the ACC championship and extend its season beyond last year's loss to Mississippi State in the regional round.

Virginia coach Brian O'Connor called Posey the "best catcher in college baseball" following his team's back-to-back extra-inning losses to FSU on April 6.

"That guy is one of the top picks in the country in my opinion," he said. "He's a plus defender behind the plate, which is rare to find anymore in this game, and he's an offensive guy behind the plate. He's so athletic behind the plate … you just don't see that.

"It was great foresight on Florida State's part -- their coaching staff's part -- to convert him to a catcher. He's going to be a great player in this game for a long time."

[+] EnlargeMike Martin and Buster Posey
Mike Olivella, FSUMike Martin went out of his way to bring Buster Posey to Florida State.

Martin Jr. said he doesn't even want to think about playing without Posey -- a very real scenario for next season if Posey decides to enter the draft. Posey has already taken the step of hiring Jeff Berry, who is now an "advisor," but would become his agent.

"I'll be shocked if he doesn't go in the first five picks," Martin Jr. said. "I'll tell anybody that will listen: Having been with him for three years, he's Jason Varitek behind the plate and he's Derek Jeter as a hitter. I really believe that. He's that good."

The only thing that's certain, though, is that Posey is staying put behind the plate. (Except when he's pitching.)

"Catcher is where Buster Posey belongs," Martin said. "He literally just negates the running game. Guys don't get big leads off of first base with him back there. His arm is second to none in our program."

The Seminoles almost missed it.

One day last September, Martin Jr. and associate head coach Jamey Shouppe approached Martin and said, 'Let's try Buster behind the plate.'"

"I thought they were kidding," Martin said. "We went out there and watched him take five balls from the machine and I said, 'My gosh, this guy looks like he's been catching all his life.' The rest is history."

At first, Posey wasn't exactly comfortable with the position -- literally.

Last season, he would watch TV crouched like a catcher to help stretch his hips and get his body used to the alignment. He also had to get used to using his body to stop the ball in the dirt instead of trying to catch it.

"There's some good and bad about starting as late as I did," Posey said. "The good being I didn't have any bad habits from little league. The bad is I did have to learn a lot to catch up."

Not that anyone could tell.

In his first season behind the plate, Posey threw out 40.9 percent of potential base stealers and had a .994 fielding percentage. As a sophomore, he was the youngest finalist in the history of the Johnny Bench Award, which is given to the top catcher in the nation.

And all the while, he's kept his grades up -- way up.

Posey, a finance major, was named to the President's List last spring for his 4.0 GPA, and made the Dean's List in the fall of 2005 and 2007.

What else does Posey do besides play baseball?

"School? There's nothing else to do, is there?" he said with a straight face. "Baseball and school, that's about all I do. That's about it, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I enjoy it, I really do. You have to."

[+] EnlargeJack Posey
Mike Olivella, FSUJack Posey is following his brother's footsteps.

Offensively, Posey leads the ACC in four categories, including batting average (.469), runs scored (47), total bases (112), and slugging percentage (.862). He was recently named the ACC's player of the week for his .625 batting average, team-high 10 hits and two home runs.

It's no coincidence the defending Atlantic Division champs started out 12-0 and are currently in the midst of a nine-game winning streak.

"We're off to obviously a surprising start," Martin said. "I never dreamed we would be where we are right now, but Buster Posey has played a big role in that."

Jack Posey, a freshman infielder and designated hitter at FSU, said he never expected to see his older brother behind the plate.

"Not coming out of high school," he said. "That was a big surprise. He's always been able to just take stuff in stride and do the best at it."

Jack Posey has started 10 games, but isn't at the same level as his brother -- yet. That hasn't been a point of contention in their relationship. In fact, Jack loves watching Buster excel. They share the same memory of their high school state championship game -- the last time they played on the same roster. Jack watched as Buster, the leadoff batter, hit a home run on the first pitch, against one of the top pitchers in the state.

"It's a great feeling," Jack said. "It doesn't get old at all."

"Playing together on the same college team," Buster Posey said, "that's always going to be a very special memory."

The question now is how quickly it will become one.

Heather Dinich is a college sports writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.