Tuesday, April 13, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Buster Posey emerged from the visitor's dugout at Cashman Field on Monday afternoon and immediately spotted a familiar face on the field.
"Roh-ney!" shouted the San Francisco Giants prospect, before exchanging pleasantries with Las Vegas 51s manager Dan Rohn.
Posey, a 23-year-old catcher for the Fresno Grizzlies, is playing in Las Vegas for the second time in his professional career. This time around, he will be the big bat that opposes Rohn, rather than the big bat at his disposal.
"He's a tough kid," said Rohn, who managed Posey for a brief time last season with Fresno. "I see a kid that's a competitor, that doesn't do too much and plays to his abilities. He's a fun kid to watch."
Posey, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft out of Florida State, is entering his third professional season. He is widely considered one of baseball's top prospects.
"I'm definitely excited," Posey said. "You always look forward to the beginning of the season. Spring training starts to be a lull so now everybody is excited and cranked up."
Posey and the Grizzlies began a three-game series against the 51s Monday night, dropping the first game, 7-1, as Posey went 0-for-3 with a walk. The teams will also play at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
Posey was optioned to Triple-A Fresno on April 3 after hitting .321 with a .453 slugging percentage in spring training.
But with Giants veteran catcher Bengie Molina under contract, starting the season in Triple-A wasn't a surprise.
"As far as expectations," Posey said, "I'm just trying to take it one day at a time and continue to improve. And I'm looking to improve everything, most importantly my defense and then I'll worry about the offense after that."
Last season Posey hit .326 with 13 home runs in high-A before getting called up to Rohn's Fresno squad, where he batted .321.
His effort in the minors earned him a September call-up to the big-league club, where, despite hitting lightly, he learned heavily thanks to Molina.
"Learning from Bengie has been great," he said. "He's been doing it for a long time and he's one of the best in the game. Being able to pick his brain and watch how he goes about his business is good."
And Sept. 25, against the Chicago Cubs, Posey was thrown in as battery mate of two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.
"It was a treat," he said of catching Lincecum. "The first couple of times catching him there was an adjustment period. I've never caught anybody like him before, the ball just explodes out of his hand."
Fresno hitting coach Ken Joyce, who spent last season with the 51s, is delighted to work with Posey.
"He's a professional hitter," said Joyce, "But the biggest thing I've seen out of him so far this year is that his pitch selection is much better. His approach has been good though, and we're looking for big things from him."
And while most of Posey's prowess comes at the plate, the catcher knows he will have to earn his stripes defensively before jumping to the next level.
"As a catcher, my No. 1 priority is going to be getting the most out of each pitcher every night," he said. "First and foremost is defense."
Rohn raved about Posey's ability to hit fastballs from gap-to-gap with power and said the defensive confidence would come with more consistent playing time behind the plate.
"They could probably take him up there now and he'd do a fine job," he said.
For the next few days, Rohn can only hope.