TORONTO -- Opportunity knocked at the right time for Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire, whose strong finish to 2019 in the Major Leagues has set him up for a more central role going forward.
Entering the season, McGuire acted as Triple-A depth behind Danny Jansen and Luke Maile, though it was safe to presume that he was one year away from joining Jansen as the No. 2 -- or a minority-share 1B -- in Toronto. When Maile hit the injured list with a left oblique injury in late July, McGuire joined the big club and quickly shifted those perceptions.
McGuire hit .299 with five home runs and an .872 OPS over 30 games with the Blue Jays. Back in 2018, he was similarly hot at the plate over a 14-game cameo, making him a player who’s performed much better in the Major Leagues than the Minor Leagues to this point.
This performance clouded the Blue Jays’ catching situation, but in a good way.
What went right?
Across seven Minor League seasons, McGuire has proved most of his Draft reports from 2013 right. He’s played well behind the plate as his bat’s trailed behind, hitting a combined .261 with a .672 OPS.
Something clicked in the Majors, though, which McGuire credits to his preparation at Triple-A Buffalo where he worked with manager Bobby Meacham and hitting coach Corey Hart.
“That’s actually what went right is the moment I got there,” McGuire said. “I took it upon myself to be a leader, deal with the pitching staff that I had right away, be excited for where I was at, try to be the best I could be, stick with my routines, develop a routine in the cage, recovery in the training room, weight room postgame, whatever it was. I really developed that consistency to where I was ready at any moment, being down there.”
Manager Charlie Montoyo liked the surprise power he saw from McGuire, but he was even more impressed with his two-strike approach and ability to go the other way.
What went wrong?
Given the expectations for McGuire entering the season, it’s difficult to find something that went truly wrong. Instead, let’s look at the areas in which the 24-year-old wants to improve.
Catching for the Blue Jays, who used 21 different starters in 2019 including openers, is a unique challenge. Rare are the days that McGuire will catch a six-inning starter followed by a few single-inning relievers, so he’s placing a heavy focus on adapting his game calling and preparation to this new reality.
“Something I look forward to working to get better at, because it’s always a work in progress, is the way we’re going to pitch nine innings,” McGuire said. “We’re using the opener here and there, sometimes it’s the starter going out there, so where I think I can be better and we can be better as a team would be really being in the know of how we want to attack today’s game.”
The Blue Jays’ trip to Seattle is best known for the invasion of Canadian fans, but it was a homecoming for McGuire, who grew up close to the stadium in Seattle and was able to play in front of many friends and family. Montoyo made sure that McGuire started two of those three games behind the plate.
Prior to one of the games, McGuire laughed as he thought back to playing in Little League regionals and recording a video saying, ‘‘Hi, my name is Reese McGuire, my favourite player is Yuniesky Betancourt.”
Jansen took tremendous strides as a defender in 2019, which the Blue Jays were thrilled with. He hit just .207 with a .640 OPS and, while that should rebound with a more balanced focus in 2020, McGuire has wedged himself into the conversation.
Catching depth is thin across Major League Baseball, so Montoyo views this as a position of true strength for the club going forward.
“It’s kind of fun to see the two kids competing like that. They both get along and pitchers like throwing to both of them,” Montoyo said. “That’s great, I think. It’s going to push each other to become better catchers. I see it on the bench when the other guy is out playing, he’s pulling for the other guy, giving him high fives, talking about what pitches he called and why. It’s pretty cool.”
This could go a variety of ways. Jansen and McGuire make sensible platoon mates, but much more will go into those decisions than lefty-righty splits. With the pitching staff trusting both fully, Montoyo has the luxury of riding the hot hand if Jansen doesn’t pull away with the starting gig in Spring Training, which is suddenly one of the more interesting position battles in camp.