Reese McGuire hasn’t had the best start offensively this year. His first few games looked promising, going 9-for-22 with three doubles. Since then, he has gone 6-for-40 with only one extra base hit. On the season, McGuire has a .242/.265/.306 line, which is a step down from his .262/.307/.334 line in West Virginia last year.
One thing that gives hope for McGuire’s offense in the future is the fact that he doesn’t look overmatched at the plate. He has an 8.8% strikeout rate this year, which is lower than where he was at last year. He also makes solid contact to the middle of the field, although not on a consistent basis.
“Right now he’s a guy that’s got good hand-eye contact,” Bradenton hitting coach Ryan Long said. “He uses the middle of the field. Hopefully all of them are staying there. For me, power is…barreling up on balls more often. He’s right on track to do that.”
The offense is struggling, but the defense has been as advertised. He has shown some excellent moves behind the plate, with good blocking skills and outstanding work with his throwing. McGuire’s throwing motion is fluid. He catches the ball, gets to his feet, and throws down to second in one continuous movement, wasting no moves and no times to get the throw off.
“His exchange is so quick,” Bradenton manager Michael Ryan said. “You add a quick exchange, and then the arm strength, your throws down to second are very quick.”
Ryan, who coached McGuire last year in Bradenton, said that the catcher has the best arm that he has seen on the clock, calling his exchange “unbelievable.” So far, McGuire has thrown out just 25% of runners this year, down from the 40% range in his career. However, that’s a small sample size that can be influenced by 1-2 stolen bases at this point in the year. McGuire’s 39% last year was based on 126 chances in 84 games, which is 1.5 stolen base attempts per game. This year, runners are challenging him less, with less than one stolen base attempt per game.
McGuire said that they focus on the runners at this level, knowing when to be aware about certain pitches, and when to call for slide steps or pitch outs with the pitcher. As for the throwing and the quick exchange and movements, that’s something he picked up from his days playing infield.
“When I was younger, I played a lot of different positions,” McGuire said. “So when I played middle infield, I was always working on double plays and getting the ball out quick, transfers. When I got behind the dish, just kind of same type of thing. Feels pretty natural back there. I feel like the ball goes in and out the glove real quick. I practice it, but I feel like a lot of it is really natural.”
One thing that can’t really be quantified at this point when it comes to catcher values is the way they work with pitchers. McGuire gets a lot of praise from everyone who works with him, including guys who have worked with him in the upper levels. Cody Dickson offers a unique perspective, having pitched to McGuire in each of the last three seasons, including the end of the 2013 season in Jamestown.
“It’s really unbelievable how good he is behind the plate,” Dickson said. “I’ve thrown to a ton of different catchers, just through pro ball, college, and high school. Nothing compares to throwing to him.”
Dickson said that McGuire can throw guys out, is quick, and “blocks basically every pitch.”
“It can be ten feet outside, and somehow he blocks it and it stays in front of him,” Dickson said.
One aspect of catching that has been on the rise the last few years has been the quantification of pitch framing. That hasn’t reached the minors yet, but McGuire has gotten some good reviews from scouts. He also got a good review from his teammate.
“He can help get those calls that are borderline, make it not look so borderline,” Dickson said. “He does a great job out there. Lucky me, I get to throw to him every start. Him and Jin-De. To have two catchers this quality is awesome for the pitching staff.”
McGuire’s defense has been as advertised. At this point, the offense is well behind the defense, but there are certainly things to like about that part of his game. He’s still young, having turned 20 this spring. Catchers can sometimes take longer to develop the bat, since so much focus goes to the defense. By comparison, Elias Diaz didn’t start breaking out until the second half of his age 22 season, and had his big breakout year last year at the age of 23. So McGuire definitely has some time. If the bat does come along as expected, then McGuire has the defense to be an All-Star catcher in the majors one day.