Toronto Blue Jays 2020 Top Prospects: #14 – Reese McGuire

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 18: Ken Giles #51 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with Reese McGuire #70 after a 6-4 victory against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 18, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 18: Ken Giles #51 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with Reese McGuire #70 after a 6-4 victory against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 18, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Today on Jays Journal’s annual Top 30 prospect rankings. At the #14 spot on our list, we take a closer look at catcher, Reese McGuire.

Name: Reese McGuire         Position: Catcher
Age: 24
Height: 6’0                              Weight: 215 lbs.
Throws: Right                         Bats: Left
Acquired: 1st round pick in 2013 (Pittsburgh), traded to Toronto in 2016
2019 Level: AAA, MLB          ETA: 2020*

*Before I get started in analyzing Reese McGuire and his place in our list, I will point out that ‘Yes, McGuire is still technically a prospect’. Since he currently only has 128 at-bats in the majors and to graduate to ‘Rookie’ status, one would have to have had 130 ABs. With that out-of-the-way, let’s get to the good stuff.

Background

McGuire came out of Kentwood High School in Covington, WA. and was considered one of the top high school prospects in America. He was drafted 14th overall in the 2013 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He rose through the Pirates system mainly on his defensive abilities, landing him in double-A with the Altoona Curve where he was involved in a trade to the Blue Jays organization. He was traded along with Francisco Liriano and Harold Ramirez for pitcher Drew Hutchison. 

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Now in the Blue Jays system, McGuire spent the remainder of 2016 and 2017 with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in AA. In 2017, in limited time due to injury, produced a 134 wRC+. In 2018 and 2019 McGuire spent the majority of his time in AAA Buffalo with the remainder of his time, he got his first cups of coffee with the Blue Jays. McGuire made his MLB debut on September 6th, 2018.

Hitting

Per MLB Pipeline, Reese McGuire has been given a 50-grade hit tool on the 20/80 scouting scale. Meaning he projects to have a league-average ability to put the bat on the ball. But they also give him a 35 power tool as well. He should be able to hold his own with the bat but he most likely won’t be a guy to hit in the middle of a line up with a lot of power. Through 7 minor league seasons, McGuire had a slash line of  .261/.325/.347 over 2239 PA. On the whole, he was a below league average hitter throughout his minor league career per wRC+.

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Since McGuire has had a cup of coffee in the majors, we have some Statcast numbers on his abilities and can project his hitting abilities a bit. Keep in mind that McGuire has had more success in the majors in this small sample size than he has in the minors. McGuire, thus far, has a slash line of .297/.343/.539 in 138 PA(per baseball savant) which put him 33% above league average at hitting at the majors according to wRC+. In this small sample size, he has had some incredible success considering he was not touted as a good hitter. All right, before we get too caught up in these small sample size numbers, let’s look at something to bring us back down to earth a bit.

McGuire has had some help at the MLB level. He has had some BABIP (batting average of balls in play) luck with a .330 BABIP, compared to a league average of .298. He had a xBA (expected batting average) based on quality of contract of .272 compared to his actual BA of .297. We can do the same comparison for his xwOBA vs wOBA. His xwOBA was .315 vs his actual .369 wOBA. In layman’s terms, he has gotten a little lucky. But it is still a small sample size and we cannot draw many conclusions from this information.

Cards on the table, I do not expect him to be a great hitter but he can be close to league average and that can be incredibly useful especially when McGuire has the potential to be a great defender.

Defense

Enough negativity and pessimism, let’s get to the part that McGuire really shines and what excites me about him. McGuire has a fielding grade of 60 and an arm grade of 55, both projecting above league average. There are several things that go into being a good defensive catcher; framing, blocking, throwing, calling a game, and chemistry with the pitcher to name a few. Some of these have measurable statistics and others have to rely on the opinions of other players and coaches. McGuire has been very good in almost every aspect of fielding his position.

According to Baseball Savant, McGuire has been above league average at framing pitches. When measuring pitch framing, Baseball Savant measures all pitches on the edge of the strike zone and calculates the amount of those pitches that are turned into strikes. The edge of the strike zone is roughly one ball width inside and one ball wide outside of the zone. In 2019, McGuire turned 50.6% of those balls into strikes (MLB avg in 2019 was 48.4%).

I understand that difference does not sound like much but if we extrapolate that difference into a whole season of catching this could amount to several extra strike calls, which can be turned into runs, and eventually into wins. If McGuire had this rate for an entire season (approx 3000 called pitches), we would be looking at 9-11 runs saved which is roughly 1 win in WAR terms. Among catchers who had at least 500 called pitches, McGuire had the best strike rate on pitches at the bottom of the zone at 65.3% (MLB avg 49.5%).

Blocking is another important part of catching and will become more important if/when the MLB goes to robot umpires. And when that happens framing will no longer be an important skill but the catcher’s ability to keep the ball in front of him will become more valuable. Baseball Prospectus has a metric called BLK Runs (blocking runs) and it measures the catcher’s ability to help or hinder his team. They also measure this metric through the minor leagues. He has never had a year where he has hurt his team; always has had positive BLK Runs numbers.

The ability to keep runners honest is also going to be more valuable when robot umpires come in and McGuire is incredible at this skill. I am sure many of you have seen McGuire throw to second base on a stolen base attempt. If you haven’t, he throws from his knees in a very quick manner. So quick that over the last two seasons, McGuire has had the fastest average exchange time (time between catching the ball and releasing it) in all of the MLB. He averages around 79 mph (FROM HIS KNEES!!!) which is on the lower half for catcher throwing velocities but makes up for it with his incredible exchange time. McGuire has ranked in top 20 each of the last two seasons in Pop Time (time between catching the ball and the ball arriving at 2B). He does have an incredible ability to keep runners honest with those kinds of numbers.

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Future Value

McGuire’s future value, per MLB Pipeline, is an overall 40 grade. But I think this is very conservative and could easily surpass this. He has only been in the MLB for 44 games and has already produced a career bWAR of 1.3. He could easily provide league-average value if not more. He currently sits behind Danny Jansen on the Blue Jays depth chart but will get his share of appearances this year. Since McGuire is a lefty and Jansen is a righty, he may see his share of right-handed pitchers.

Since catching is such a demanding job, it is not uncommon for the backup catcher to see a third of the starts behind the plate. Also since McGuire is regarded as the better defensive catcher, Jansen is no slouch defensively and has improved immensely, he may see some innings for his defensive abilities in high leverage situations.

Next. Toronto Blue Jays 2020 Top Prospects: #15 Leonardo Jimenez. dark

The Blue Jays have one of the best catching tandems in the MLB right now, according to Fangraphs Steamer projections the tandem are projected to have the 4th highest WAR in the MLB in 2020. McGuire is a large part of that. I fully expect him to continue being a defensive wizard and I hope he can continue hitting well for the Blue Jays.

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