Big-Game McGuire Mixes Tools With Plus Makeup
Whether it's helping his Kentwood High team go 25-2 and win a Washington 4-A state title in 2012 or USA Baseball's 18-and-under team bring home gold medals for the first time since 1999, catcher Reese McGuire has a knack for coming up big in clutch situations.
Perhaps that's because the 6-foot-1, 190-pound San Diego recruit has spent most of his life playing against advanced competition. Growing up, Reese always played up a level or two with his older brother Cash—now a freshman infielder at Seattle—and the two pushed each other to be their best.
McGuire has been catching ever since he started playing—and it shows. He's now considered one of the best high school prospects in the country thanks to his athleticism and natural feel behind the plate, as well as his strong lefthanded bat, and projects to be a first-round pick this June.
(Red, White &) Blue Collar
In addition to all the major showcase events, McGuire spent his summer playing for Team USA.
"Team USA was the best experience of my life, for sure," McGuire said. "When I put the USA jersey on for the first time, it was a thrill. Over in Korea, with all the fans waving our American flag and chanting 'USA!'—that was an excitement that I'll always remember."
During his time with the USA Baseball 18U team, McGuire hit .400/.522/.514 with four doubles and 11 RBIs over 35 at-bats. He led the team in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, hits, RBIs and walks. Not only that, but McGuire did so while shuffling between catcher, third base, first base, left field and designated hitter.
"In terms of on-the-field, baseball-wise, he was capable of playing multiple positions for us," 18U head coach Scott Brosius said. "He was very good defensively as a catcher, but can also play third base and can play the outfield. Being able to move like that and have that versatility was huge for us. And just beyond that, he really just epitomized the type of attitude and the type of player that we needed and wanted to have on the team—very tough, very hard working, didn't say a whole lot, just really went about his business and had that blue-collar type of mentality."
One of the key plays of the event came in the semifinal game against Japan. USA was trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning with no outs and McGuire on third and Chris Okey on second. Japan pulled its infield in to try and preserve the lead and third base coach Brooks Badeaux told McGuire to be aggressive. When outfielder Willie Abreu hit a ground ball to first base, Japan threw home and McGuire collided with the catcher, who hung onto the ball. Even though he was out, Japan's catcher was shaken up and it was a turning point of sorts for the US, who scored four runs in the inning to take a commanding lead and wound up winning, 10-5.
"It kind of surprised me how low the catcher was to the ground, so instead of getting a full truck, it was kind of just knocking him over," McGuire said. "He ended up holding onto the ball, but after that it was kind of the whole momentum seemed to shift.
"I was thankful he was OK and was able to stay in the game because, being a catcher, that's not my style. I hate it when someone tries to come in and knock me, but over there I was playing for something else. I was playing for something bigger than just that run."
The Asian style of play isn't as aggressive as it is in America. With the 18U World Championship being played in South Korea and the collision happening against Japan, McGuire's decision likely prevented him from winning the MVP award.
But McGuire still brought home some hardware when USA Baseball named him its 2012 Dick Case player of the year.
"It doesn't matter to anybody more than it matters to Reese," USA Baseball's 18U director Brant Ust said. "There's no need to motivate, there's no need to remind him of the situation because he's all in. He's fully involved in every moment and nothing matters more to him than winning. He played a smart, but aggressive, style of baseball, which I think was a uniquely American style of baseball on the international stage. The other guys just rallied around him and got us through some tough times in the tournament."
McGuire's tools are obvious. He's a polished lefthanded hitter who knows how to use the whole field and already shows an excellent feel for driving the ball to the opposite field. He is a line-drive hitter now, but will grow into some power as he continues to fill out. He has strong hands behind the plate, develops solid working relationships with his pitchers and has above-average arm strength.
"He throws the ball extremely well behind the plate," Brosius said. "He made a throw in a game for us that was under 2 (seconds) flat, from his knees. You just don't see high schoolers, much less college guys, make that throw."
That combination makes him a difference-maker at the high school level and shows why he's likely to be one of the first high school players off the board in June.
"The biggest effect he has on a baseball game at this level is, defensively, he literally forces the other team to get three base hits to score or get an extra-base hit and two hits," Kentwood head coach Mark Zender said. "They just have to do that. Getting a runner on first base doesn't get you to second base. They have to give up outs or get multiple hits. He makes it very difficult for teams because he has a reputation and they won't run on him. If they do, they're out."
But McGuire stands out just as much for the things that aren't easily measured, the extra qualities that can make or break a high school player. By his own admission, McGuire's best attributes on the field aren't his physical tools, but rather his feel for the game and his baseball IQ.
"There's just things that I see that really come naturally to me," McGuire said. "I just notice all the little things . . . When I'm catching, I always pay attention to the hitter, where his feet are and just every little thing that he's doing. In his practice swing, if he looks like he's leaning back on his heels, then we're going to go low and away."
McGuire also takes a lot of pride in stealing signs—both from the third base coach and from managers who call pitches from the dugout. Teams playing against McGuire don't have that same advantage. He's been calling his own games behind the plate since he was 10 years old.
"There's a lot of kids, even some of the talented ones, who aren't so smart because they don't have to be," said Zender, who has been coaching for more than 30 years. "And I think Reese is a rare breed who just gets the game. He loves the game and the game inside the game. He takes pride in that part of it. He can mentally control what's going on out there and he loves that. He loves the subtle parts of the game and he's good at it."
McGuire has a quiet personality and could stand to become more of a vocal leader behind the plate, but he already excels in another key department: toughness. That was on display this summer when the 18U team spent a morning training on a base in San Diego working out with Navy SEALs.
"Their sergeant had our players go through a push-up drill," Brosius said. "So, as a coach, you kind of watch and see who's doing it, who's willing to do it, which guys are kind of complaining. Some guys were kind of sighing, like, 'What are we doing?' and not really doing the full push-ups properly. Then I look over and see Reese, and the whole entire time, he's doing finger-tip push-ups. So, not only is he doing them, he's going above-and-beyond. Not saying a word, just cranking through these push-ups."
Zender said a light has come on for McGuire since he's been able to stack himself up against the rest of the country this summer.
"I think the biggest thing has been mental maturity," Zender said. "I think in the last year, Reese has probably come to a realization of what he's capable of, in terms of his future. Like any kid, he always knew he was a good player, but he didn't necessarily connect where he's at with wanting to play in the major leagues someday. But now I think he can see that and knows it's a realistic possibility for himself. So his maturity is causing him to make sure that every choice he makes, every day, leads to that goal. That's the biggest thing I see from Reese is the maturity that connects what he's doing now to his future."