McGuire get­ting more play­ing time in Buf­falo

The Buffalo News - - IN­SIDE THE BISONS - The for­mer first-round draft pick was cited for his ad­vanced de­fense and con­sis­tent con­tact as a bat­ter, but knocked for an in­abil­ity to drive the ball. McGuire ap­peared in only 45 games that sea­son be­cause of in­jury.

Two years later, McGuire is re­ceiv­ing a lion’s share of the starts be­hind home plate this sea­son for the Triple-A Buf­falo Bisons. The 24-yearold re­mains a steady re­ceiver with the ath­leti­cism to block balls in the dirt. His strong arm and quick re­lease feed a knack for gun­ning down would-be base steal­ers. He’s had his first taste of the ma­jors. And he’s em­brac­ing this ex­tended op­por­tu­nity to fur­ther re­fine his game, both as a bat­ter and bat­tery­mate. Like break­ing in a glove, it takes time.

“The pitcher-catcher re­la­tion­ship is huge,” McGuire said. “You want to get to know the guy and how to kind of coach him as a catcher when he’s out there on the mound, and whether he’s hav­ing a good day or a bad day, know­ing kind of how to get him to tick, how to get back onto his A-game.

“One thing you ob­vi­ously want to do is you want to know what pitches he’s got, what he’s com­fort­able do­ing, if he’s com­fort­able throw­ing a curve­ball for a first-pitch strike or if he’d rather throw the slider for that and the curve­ball for the more put-away pitch. Each guy’s dif­fer­ent.”

McGuire was named the player of the year af­ter help­ing the United States cap­ture the In­ter­na­tional Base­ball Fed­er­a­tion 18U Base­ball World Cham­pi­onship in 2012, but he still had much to learn when the Pi­rates drafted him with the 14th over­all pick in 2013, giv­ing the Seat­tle high school se­nior a $2.36 mil­lion sign­ing bonus to turn pro.

In 2016, McGuire played 77 games for Dou­ble-A Al­toona be­fore the Pi­rates traded him to the Blue Jays, along with fel­low prospect Harold Ramirez and vet­eran pitcher Fran­cisco Liri­ano, for pitcher Drew Hutchi­son. McGuire, a 6-foot, 215-pound left-handed hit­ter who throws righty, closed the 2016 sea­son with just 16 ap­pear­ances for New Hamp­shire, then had an in­juryshort­ened 2017, when he needed arthro­scopic surgery for a menis­cus tear in his right knee.

But McGuire quickly drew the at­ten­tion of Bisons man­ager Bobby Meacham, then the man­ager in New Hamp­shire.

“He’s one of the guys where it was like, ‘OK, now I know why we got him. I know why he was a first-round pick from the Pi­rates.’ He’s got a lot of abil­ity,” Meacham said. “Catch­ers are hard to come by, the guys that can han­dle pitch­ers well, can read what the hit­ter’s do­ing so he can coun­ter­act that.”

It wasn’t long be­fore McGuire and Shafer were on the same page.

“Even­tu­ally, just from throw­ing to each other, I’d be like, ‘Yo, I un­der­stand what you’re try­ing to do, but my change-up’s not good. So we do not need to be throw­ing that,’ ” Shafer said. “He’s like, ‘I know, but we’ve got a guy on sec­ond. If we can get him to roll over.’ I was like, ‘I know. You’re right. It’s def­i­nitely the right pitch to throw. I just can’t throw it.’

“Af­ter that, we talk, and he fig­ures out dif­fer­ent ways to get the same re­sult, just with a dif­fer­ent pitch that I’m bet­ter at throw­ing.”

Last sea­son, McGuire and Danny Jansen split catch­ing du­ties with the Bisons.

McGuire played in 96 games. He scored 31 runs and pro­duced a .233 bat­ting av­er­age with nine dou­bles, two triples, a ca­reer-high seven homers and 37 RBIs in 322 at-bats.

But Jansen, a 16th-round draft pick in 2013, was the more pol­ished bat­ter. He played in 88 games, scored 45 runs and had a .275 bat­ting av­er­age with 21 dou­bles, one triple, 12 homers and 58 RBIs in 298 at-bats.

With the Blue Jays out of the play­off race, Jansen was called up in Au­gust. He played in 31 games with the big league club, fin­ish­ing with a .247 bat­ting av­er­age, six dou­bles, three homers, 12 runs and eight RBIs in 81 at-bats.

McGuire re­ceived a call-up and made his ma­jor league de­but in Septem­ber. He ap­peared in 14 games with the Blue Jays and hit .290 with three dou­bles, two homers, five runs scored, four RBIs and a stolen base in 31 at-bats.

“And while I was up there,” McGuire said, “a lot of the pitch­ers I caught I was fa­mil­iar with from spring train­ing or even guys that were here in Triple-A for most of the sea­son, so that made the tran­si­tion up there a lit­tle more smooth.”

But those were rel­a­tively small sam­ple sizes. And af­ter the Jays traded start­ing catcher Rus­sell Martin dur­ing the off­sea­son, Jansen was pro­moted to take his place, with vet­eran Luke Maile re­main­ing the backup.

The move opened con­sid­er­able play­ing time for McGuire in Buf­falo.

Bisons start­ing pitcher Ja­cob Wagues­pack praised McGuire af­ter earn­ing the vic­tory in the sea­son opener against Scran­ton/WilkesBarre. The right-han­der al­lowed just one earned run on six hits in six in­nings while strik­ing out eight and walk­ing none. McGuire ad­di­tion­ally picked off a runner at first base.

“I think I only shook twice with Reese be­hind the plate, and he knows me,” Wagues­pack said af­ter the game. “He was giv­ing me some good lo­ca­tions and we were pound­ing the ball in­side and go­ing back out­side as well. I was just pitch­ing through Reese and I’m glad he was back there.

“He just has a good knack for the game and when­ever we’re se­quenc­ing pitches, we’re al­ways on the same page. I love how he steals a few strikes in the bot­tom of the strike zone, and that’s good for me since

I’ve got a good down­ward an­gle on my fast­ball. I love what he does back there. And, of course, he gets me out of that jam, throw­ing the guy out at first, too, so that’s huge.”

Meacham said McGuire’s per­for­mance in the sea­son opener of­fered “per­fect ev­i­dence” of how well the catcher di­ag­noses bat­ters’ weak­nesses and tai­lors his calls to max­i­mize his pitch­ers’ strengths.

“There were sev­eral turn­ing points in the game early with Wags where he helped by call­ing the right pitches,” Meacham said, “mak­ing the right – they don’t call it fram­ing any­more – but mak­ing sure he re­ceives the ball just right to present it to the um­pire to get that ex­tra inch that it may have been off the plate. He’s re­ally good at that. And then you saw him when the kid (Corey) Cop­ping came in and was strug­gling and Reese was able to get him back in the strike zone by do­ing lit­tle sub­tle things. He’s re­ally good at that and it’s a niche.

“I don’t know how you de­velop it, but he has it, so I’m re­ally ex­cited to see what he can do again this sea­son, play­ing most of the time. He’ll get the bulk of the play­ing time to de­velop that and con­tinue to de­velop his bat, which is there, he’s just got to con­tinue to get the reps to de­velop his swing and be­come the type of hit­ter that can help your team win.”

Shafer, who made his ma­jor league de­but in Au­gust, said McGuire works to get the most out of his pitch­ers and ul­ti­mately makes his job eas­ier.

“For me, the big­gest thing is un­der­stand­ing me from a catch­ers’ stand­point,” Shafer said. “I want him to un­der­stand what I like to do, not nec­es­sar­ily call pitches that he thinks are right, but call pitches that I do well. I think a lot of catch­ers call what they think may get the hit­ter out, which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily wrong, but that might not be what I’m good at. So don’t call pitches just be­cause you think that’s go­ing to get the guy out, if that’s not my strength. I think at first me and Reese, that was the learn­ing curve, be­cause he’d have his ideas of what he likes to do and since we had just got him, that was kind of the strug­gle at first. But that’s with any new catcher.

“I think a good catcher, as soon as a new guy walks in, he walks right up, ‘Hey, what do you want to do? How do you pitch? What do you like to use? What’s your strike­out pitch? What’s your pitch to get back into counts?’ And Reese does that.”

McGuire said hav­ing a strong grasp of a pitcher’s skillset is only part of the equa­tion.

“Also just per­son­ally get­ting to know the guy,” McGuire said, “to where when you’re work­ing to­gether, ob­vi­ously they have the trust in you with each fin­ger you’re putting down for what pitch you want, that they be­lieve you’re not just throw­ing num­bers down there, you’ve got a plan.

“And that, for me, is the fun part of it, is where you get to know each guy, build that re­la­tion­ship, and then it’s fun when it pans out ... and you find suc­cess and you help guys. Be­cause that’s one thing in my po­si­tion, where there’s quite a few pitch­ers that will be go­ing up to the big leagues as well at some point. So for me, when a guy gets called up, it’s ex­cit­ing for me as well, just be­cause I feel like we kind of worked it to­gether.”

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

Reese McGuire is safe at home as he slides un­der the tag of Scran­ton/Wilkes-Barre’s Kyle Hi­gash­ioka.

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