Enduring a first full season in the minors taught Reese McGuire many things.
Probably none more important than practicing perseverance.
A 98-game grind can take its toll on the body and a young mind, especially for a 19-year-old catcher trying to excel as one of the country’s top prospects in a National League club’s farm system.
McGuire understands he has gone far in such short time, but acknowledges he has so much more room to grow in the difficult game of pro baseball.
“Looking back at last year, I’ve learned so much, on and off the field, just growing up as a young man,” said McGuire, a Kentwood High School product, a first-round draft selection in 2013 and a promising left-handing-hitting catcher paying his dues in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system.
He signed out of high school as the 14th overall pick for $2.3 million, forgoing a scholarship at the University of San Diego. “I know now that a lot of things I learned from last season I can take into this new season. It will help me become a better player and a better teammate. I’m looking forward to it.”
McGuire is older, stronger and wiser as he prepares for his second full season under the sun in Single-A ball.
He turned 20 on Monday.
To better hold up to the rigors of a long season, he added 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame, a result of an offseason filled with weight training and steady drills.
To improve his approach to the plate, he wore out batting cages, even imploring his friends, some of whom are minor league pitchers, to throw to him in bullpen sessions.
The result? A more confident 210-pound kid with a cannon-like arm behind the plate as he embraces spring training in Bradenton, Fla., where he likely will end up playing this season for the Marauders, a Pirates’ Class A affiliate.
“Last year I was trying to figure out the player I was,” McGuire said after a day on the diamond in Florida last week. “This year going in I have a better understanding of myself as a player and in what I need to do to prepare.”
Last season brought out many highs and lows in McGuire’s game.
But he finished with a flurry and produced some good numbers.
With the Pirates’ Low-A (Charleston) West Virginia Power last season, McGuire more than held his own with the bat as a defense-first catcher in the South Atlantic League (Sally), where the average age is nearly 22. McGuire hit .262 with 11 doubles, four triples, three home runs and 45 RBIs.
“It was good competition, for sure,” McGuire said of the Sally play. “Every team has pitchers who throw in the low 90s, as well as our team that we had. … There are a lot of guys out of college who are juniors and seniors with a lot of experience pitching … so it was a good year.”
Finding consistency at the plate is a challenge for any young player to find. McGuire knows as much.
“For me, I’ve never been real big on the power, so I’m going to let that come as it goes as a player,” McGuire said. “I just want to come up with a consistent approach at the plate and stick with it.
“Last year, (depending on whether) I was up or down dictated my approach at the next at-bat,” he said, “It was my first full season, so I had to overcome some adversity. (This season) I want to find that consistent approach and trust it.”
Defensively, McGuire had a 39-percent caught-stealing rate.
The Pirates organization likes McGuire for his “great receiving skills, blocking skills, and a plus arm.” He also has good, quick footwork with no wasted movements when transitioning from catching the ball to throwing out a runner.
McGuire has had to learn how to handle the pitching staff. At Charleston, he has grown behind the plate and how he deals with the personalities and pitch selections of those he catches.
“We all worked together,” he said. “Each pitcher is a different guy, so I had to learn how to approach them on the field, but also spend time off the field and get to know them. That really helps (the staff) and the camaraderie of the team.”
McGuire is living the dream. Long bus trips. Neat cities. Cool ballparks.
“I wouldn’t want to have it any other way,” he said. “I’m soaking it all in, taking it day-by-day and enjoying this opportunity. I feel blessed.”
McGuire also finds time to check in frequently with family, including chats and updates with his brothers. Cash, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is working his way back onto the field as a junior at Seattle University. Shane has begun his sophomore season at Kentwood.
“They are a big part of my life,” McGuire said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”