Posada mentoring young Yanks catchers
Secure as starter, veteran glad to show future stars the ropes
TAMPA, Fla. -- Jorge Posada trotted in a small circle across the plush outfield grass at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday, blindly trying to spot a popup launched from a machine aimed skyward.
The veteran backstop expertly plucked the baseball from the postcard-blue Florida backdrop, then protected his head with his glove and throwing hand as two more plopped to the turf. Posada good-naturedly scooped the balls up -- he'd been pranked by the younger catchers, now having a laugh at his expense.
More than a decade has passed since Posada was the young hotshot coming in, muscling his way into the Yankees' lineup while Joe Girardi receded into a reserve role. While Posada has no intentions of yielding his starting job, the 38-year-old is more than happy to continue building relationships with the potential backstops of the future.
"I'm going to help them on stuff. I'm going to try and be there for them," Posada said. "That's all you can do at this point. I can teach. I would love to do whatever it takes to keep them happy and part of the team."
While Francisco Cervelli is in line as Posada's backup this season, the Yankees are also interested in looking at several promising prospects who are attending camp, helping out with the grunt work in the bullpen and hopefully getting their chances in Grapefruit League games.
Jesus Montero and Austin Romine have been widely regarded among the Yankees' top organizational talent, and both receive ample opportunities to sidle up to Posada during the morning workouts under catching instructor Tony Pena, as well as in the clubhouse.
Posada's locker is in a far corner of the dressing area, offering a certain nook of privacy from pitchers and the rest of the position players. But Posada's part of "Catcher's Row" is extremely accessible to anyone wearing a chest protector, something the younger Yankees take advantage of.
"I think it's the best thing that they put my locker next to Jorge's," Cervelli said. "He's got so much information. He's the kind of guy that you want to follow. He's won a lot of World Series, done a lot of good things in his career. You want to follow that kind of guy. He works hard every day, and you say, 'I'm a rookie, so I have to work double.'"
Proving he can share more with the rookies than shin guards, bruised forearms and the occasional prank in the stadium outfield, Posada said that he has come to enjoy the respect and attention that comes with 15 big league seasons and five World Series rings.
"Cervelli is awesome, I love Romine, I love Montero," Posada said. "For me, it's easy, because these kids want to be taught. They listen. They follow you. Montero is like, 'What are we going to do today?' They're going to follow me around, and hopefully we can work together. Whatever I have to teach, I'll probably do a little bit of it."
Not that anyone is expecting Posada to exactly follow the blueprint left for him by Girardi, who still had life left in his career when the Yankees essentially asked him to step aside and help pave the way for someone younger and more offensively potent to take his job in 1998.
By expecting to start approximately 120 games this season, Posada has made it clear that the job is not being offered to Cervelli this season -- and perhaps not next year, when Posada will be in the walk campaign of his four-year contract.
But it will make for an interesting call. The 20-year-old Montero is slated to start this year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could push doors open with his power bat, though the organization would prefer to see him tackle another full year of development in the Minor Leagues.
Romine, 21, was the Florida State League Hitter of the Year in 2009, and he will open the season at Double-A Trenton, having earned rave reviews throughout the chain for his defensive ability and baseball acumen.
The job is Posada's now, but it won't be his forever. To that point, Girardi plans to watch those three prospects, as well as the other players the Yankees have invited to camp, including Mike Rivera -- a 33-year-old who has played parts of seven big league seasons with the Tigers, Padres and Brewers.
"The thing about it is, I want to see them all play," Girardi said. "I'm a big believer that if you come to Spring Training and do the work, you should play. I want to see every catcher here play. I think it's important so you know exactly what you've got, how close they are and what they need to work on."
While the situation is different than it was when Girardi bowed out at age 33 and became a Yankees understudy, Posada has his doubts if he can live up to the impact his mentor had years ago.
"Joe's such a great teacher," Posada said. "I don't see myself in that [way]. I don't know if I can really reciprocate what he was able to do. He really took the time, and I don't know if I have that much patience."
Posada laughed as he finished the sentence, and Girardi snickered later when told of his catcher's opinion.
"I've seen Jorgie do it in the past," Girardi said. "He might do it in a little bit different way than I did it, because we're different people. I've seen Jorgie offer all kinds of advice and talk to young players about catching. I think he'll do just fine in that role."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.