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02/16/12 9:55 AM EST

Giants busting with joy to have Posey back

Young catcher's leadership skills make him team's foundation

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy looks at Buster Posey, whose 24-year-old body is equipped with a mind seemingly 10 years older, and what the Giants manager sees chases away whatever blues he might be feeling.

"The whole package. That's Buster," Bochy said. "The leadership role he plays, leading the [pitching] staff, being a good teammate, his talent on both sides of the ball, how good an athlete he is. [He's] as good as anybody I've managed."

That takes in a lot of territory and managerial time -- 17 years of it. It includes a Hall of Famer or two, a pair of World Series trips and a championship in 2010, Posey's memorable rookie year.

The Giants were not the same team in 2011. Posey's season ended in a horrific flash on May 25 with a collision at home plate at AT&T Park. His lower left leg was shattered by the impact with Florida's Scott Cousins. Surgery repaired three torn ligaments in his ankle.

"I look at Buster now," Bochy said, "and it's amazing how he's come back so fast. That was a really bad one. We're hopeful we'll have him to open the season. He's so important to us."

The Giants were leading the National League West by 2 1/2 games, Posey afire with a 13-game hitting streak, when he went down.

They maintained their lead for all but nine games until Aug. 10, when they fell into second to stay, overtaken by the surging Diamondbacks.

It was Posey's presence that the Giants maintain they missed as much as his bat, glove and laser arm.

The kid from Georgia gave his team authority.

Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti could see the difference in both dugouts.

"You've got guys who are just better than the others, and they all know it," Righetti said. "You feel like you've got the upper hand going into a fight with a guy like that.

"Posey carries all the intangibles. It resonates even with players on the other team. They know it. It's an intangible, but it's something you see, how players react.

"Defensively, our guys [Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart] did a fantastic job. But Posey is an attitude guy. Players look at your team differently when you have someone like that."

When he hasn't been caring for his baby twins this winter, Posey has been fully immersed in rehab. He is convinced he'll be back in form by Opening Day, ready to catch, play some first base and hit.

"I've done some stuff I didn't think I'd be doing so soon," Posey said. "I started taking batting practice on the field about three weeks before I thought I would. Timing is a huge part of hitting. I'm optimistic it'll be pretty smooth."

Crouching, he said, has been no problem. While he has no idea how often he'll be at first base, he handled the position capably as a rookie while Bengie Molina was the regular receiver.

"It'll be questions and answers for a while," Posey said. "I can answer questions by being out there.

"I'm anxious. There are going to be a few extra things to do in Spring Training, but I'm happy where I am and I'm looking forward to a healthy season."

At the same time, he admits his left ankle does not feel the way it did before he was crushed.

"I know there's going to be some aches for a while," he said, "but the doctors told me that's normal."

Playing 108 games, basically two-thirds of the 2010 season, Posey was the National League Rookie of the Year. He batted .305 with .357 on-base and .505 slugging marks.

He did this -- having replaced Molina after the big catcher was sent to Texas -- playing half of his games in what Tim Lincecum calls a "graveyard" for hitters. Nothing seems to bother Posey, who's more natural than the Robert Redford character.

Initially, Lincecum didn't feel the same connection with Posey as with Molina. But the ace was immediately impressed by what Bochy calls Posey's best attribute: his demeanor.

"He speaks up when he wants to," Lincecum said. "I'm a two-time Cy Young winner and he's a rookie, and he's coming out and telling me what I need to hear.

"Like, if I'm not getting a call and I'm [upset], he'll come out, and it's almost like my dad getting on me. He'd say, `Would you rather be sitting in the dugout or pitching? Would you rather be playing ball or not? You need to get your [act] together. We need you to stay in this game.'"

Lincecum quickly came to realize this was no normal rookie.

"He's like the unspoken leader of this team," Lincecum said. "He takes it so seriously. You look at how he works out, how he plays the game. This is his life, his job, his passion. You rarely see that in any player at all, for a guy that young to take it on like that."

Posey's brilliant 2010 postseason -- .288 average in 15 games with a majestic World Series homer in Texas -- was no surprise to those who'd seen him at Florida State.

"He owned the state -- him and [Tim] Tebow," Righetti said, grinning. "Buster's a legend in Florida."

Posey began catching, a position he'd never played, as a sophomore. He'd been drafted as a pitcher by the Angels out of Lee County (Ga.) High School but opted for FSU and shortstop "because I love to hit."

John Barr, the Giants' scouting director, had followed Posey closely and was enamored of his talent and attitude. San Francisco is eternally grateful that four clubs passed on Posey in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

The Giants had been just as lucky two years earlier when nine teams, including his hometown Seattle Mariners, let Lincecum get away.

Here stands the foundation of a champion. Pitcher-catcher combo plates don't come any tastier than Lincecum-Posey.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.