Baseball is an every-day grind, but especially so during the dog days of August when your team is no longer in playoff contention and the wear and tear of a long season begins to mount.
For the West Virginia Power’s Reese McGuire, though, everything is new under the sun. A day doesn’t go by that the 19-year-old,who is only a year removed from high school, isn’t picking up some nuance of playing catcher, one of the toughest positions both mentally and physically on the diamond.
“Definitely at this point in the season the legs and body are tired, so right now for me it’s staying mentally tough and grinding through this last bit of the season,’’ smiled the 6-foot, 181-pound McGuire of heading toward the finish line of a 140-game season, one that began with spring training in February and won’t end until the first week of September.
“It’s my first full season and more games played back-to-back than ever in my life. I’ve learned so much already. I’m trying to finish strong.’’
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ first-round draft pick in 2013 is doing just that, as he was recently tabbed the “Best Defensive Catcher in the South Atlantic League’’ by Baseball America in its latest edition of “Best Tools.’’
McGuire has thrown out a league-best 42 runners at a 41-percent clip, which is third-best in the Sally League. The Seattle native has also turned a league-high eight double plays from behind the plate.
“He’s matured, becoming a full player, total package,’’ said Power manager Michael Ryan, a former major leaguer with the Minnesota Twins. “He’s done a really good job behind the plate. He’s developing relationships with our pitchers. They’re starting to enjoy throwing to him. He’s learning how to read hitters and he knows what our pitchers’ strengths and weaknesses are. They’re starting to trust him. He’s wise beyond his years.’’
McGuire, who was the 14th player chosen overall and the most highly regarded catcher in last year’s draft out of Kentwood (Wash.) High School, is hitting .254 this season for the Power with two home runs, nine doubles and 38 RBIs. He also had a 19-game hitting streak earlier in the season and was selected as a SAL All-Star reserve.
McGuire spent last year with the short-season rookie league Gulf Coast League Pirates, carrying a .330 batting average with 11 doubles and 21 RBIs in 46 games. He also spent four games at short-season Class A Jamestown (Va.).
But working behind the plate requires so much more than one facet of your game.
“I’d say the biggest thing is learning to separate offense from defense,’’ said McGuire, who reportedly received a signing bonus just north of $2.3 million. “Not let a bad day at the plate carry over to my defense and realize how important calling a game and working with the pitcher is. A good day or bad day, stay consistent out there on defense.’’
“He’s learned a ton this year,’’ added Power pitching coach Jeff Johnson, who played three seasons for the New York Yankees. “You can see it in his game calls. He seems to have [the pitchers’] confidence and he has good feel for what’s going on in the batter’s box.
“The main thing I pay attention to is pitch calling. Having a feel for what the hitter’s tendencies are has gotten way better. He knows what [our pitchers] can’t do and what they’re good at. I’ve been really impressed with him, especially the last month or so. He’s gotten even better.’’
Baseball America has McGuire rated as the eighth-best prospect in the Pirates farm system.
“They love him,’’ said Ryan of the Pirates’ front office. “They’re high on him. They just want him to develop and become a better player.’’
McGuire said playing so many games this season has showed him how important it is to stay sharp.
“For me, the biggest thing is developing a routine and staying consistent with it,’’ he said. “This year with Miggy [Perez], my catching coach, we’ve got an every day routine. Prior to the game we get our early work. As long as I’m staying consistent with that, my mind’s ready to go.’’
McGuire said he is appreciative of the Baseball America honor, but he knows he still has a long road ahead.
“There’s so much growth that’s happened,’’ he said. “It’s an honor. It’s a cool achievement. You look around this league and there are so many great catchers and talented guys out there. I’m having a blast here in my first season.’’
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.