CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Power manager Michael Ryan compared the club’s new catcher — 19-year old Reese McGuire — to Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer during Power media day Tuesday. Mauer, the No. 1 overall pick by the Twins in 2001, is a six-time All-Star and was named 2009 American League Most Valuable Player.
Flattered? Sure. Surprised? Not McGuire. He’s heard it before.
McGuire, the No. 14 overall draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates last summer, begins his first full season of professional baseball today when the Power take the field on the road at Lexington.
“I’ve heard it a couple times but Joe Mauer has proven himself and I need to do that continually,” McGuire said. “It’s an awesome comment.”
No high school catcher had been drafted as high as McGuire since 2008, when the Marlins snagged Kyle Skipworth sixth overall. Only four high school backstops had been selected as high as No. 14 since 2000 (Mauer, Skipworth, Brandon Snyder and Neil Walker, the latter of whom converted to second base after three minor league seasons).
McGuire, a Seattle native, said baseball has been in his blood since he was a child when he was regularly the youngest player on the team.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve been playing baseball,” he said. “My dad was always a coach and playing with my older brother Cash (an infielder at Seattle University) — I guess growing up I kind of figured baseball was going to be in my life. I played on a lot of teams where I was the youngest kid and that always told me I could compete with some of these older guys.”
After being selected by the Pirates last June, McGuire was off to Florida to join the organization’s Gulf Coast League team. While there he played in 46 games, posting a .330/.388/.392 slash line with 21 runs batted in, five stolen bases and 18 strikeouts. He finished the season playing four games with Jamestown of the New York-Penn League.
Several analysts credited McGuire’s skill behind the plate and cannon arm as where the majority of his skill resided, but don’t tell that to the precocious teen who has been calling his own pitches since Little League.
“Everyone has their things to say but I focus on defense just as much as I do on offense,” he said. “I’ve come a long way on both sides of the field.”
Mauer, for what it’s worth, was not especially powerful during his stop at this level of the minors. In 2002 for Quad Cities (Iowa), the future MVP batted .302 with four home runs and 62 RBI in 476 plate appearance spread out through 110 games.
Ryan, however, did mentioned McGuire as one of the Power players that did well this spring with his bat. If McGuire can consistently show skill at the plate the Pirates will certainly feel better about the decision to move Wyatt Mathisen, a second-round pick in 2012, from behind the plate to third base this offseason.
“(Mathisen changed positions) because we got Reese, a first-round guy,” Ryan said. “It was a situation where they would have split at-bats here and the organization didn’t want that. It gives Wyatt more value as a major league player, I think, as a third baseman.”
McGuire said the competition with Mathisen, though short lived, has and is still paying off for both players.
“We’re always pushing each other to be better and competing on the field,” he said. “I think off the field too. We hold each other accountable for our actions and it’s a good mix to have that.”
Charleston is no stranger to the Pirates’ top prospects. Last season it was pitcher Tyler Glasnow and his high-90s fastball. Prior to that there was outfielder Gregory Polanco and infielder Alen Hanson. Before that, pitcher Jameson Taillon. Now it’s the Appalachian Power spotlight will shine on McGuire, and perhaps fellow Pittsburgh first-round selection outfielder Austin Meadows (expected to join the team in two to three weeks after rehabilitating a hamstring injury).
“I think our scouting department has done an unbelievable job finding the talent,” Ryan said. “Player development takes over from there and turns them into the players the scouts thought they could become.”
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at email@example.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.