COVINGTON — The beauty of Kentwood High catcher Reese McGuire is in the subtleties, the moments that fade just as quickly as they come.
There is enough pop and shine to McGuire’s well-manicured repertoire to validate him as a likely first-round pick in this week’s MLB draft, but McGuire’s true charm is in the hidden gems. In fact, Kentwood coach Mark Zender instructs people to watch McGuire at practice, not games, to really experience his skills.
In two games at the Class 4A state baseball tournament in Pasco two weeks ago, McGuire delivered two minor but telling examples.
With a runner on third in the fourth inning against South Kitsap, McGuire scooped a low pitch off the bounce, then turned around and pretended the ball got by him. He was trying to catch the runner on third being overanxious or inattentive.
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The next day, in the first inning against Kentridge, McGuire stood on first with two outs; he grounded into a fielder’s choice but had enough speed to avoid an inning-ending double play. Tanner Wessling, the No. 4 batter behind McGuire, hit a fly ball to center that appeared to be a routine out off the bat. But the Kentridge center fielder misplayed the ball at the last second, and McGuire scored because he immediately took off full speed.
“It’s so subtle,” Zender said. “He just doesn’t translate well to paper. The most impressive things he does is something like pounce on a ball near home plate with cat quickness, know the situation with multiple runners on base, wait and freeze runners elsewhere on the field and then fire a dart at the last minute. It’s incredible to watch. I can’t even explain it. His body control and pure, pure athleticism — it’s almost artistry to watch.”
Major-league scouts and executives have noticed. Baseball America has McGuire rated as the top catcher in the nation, and he is almost assured of being drafted in the first round.
ESPN’s Keith Law projected McGuire going ninth to the Pittsburgh Pirates, writing in his mock draft, “Neal Huntington flew to Washington to see McGuire twice — not something a GM does unless his club is serious about taking a player.” McGuire was also named Washington’s Gatorade Player of the Year and USA Baseball’s National Player of the Year.
McGuire, who has been projected as high as the No. 6 pick, would receive a signing bonus of between $2 million and $3.5 million if he is among the first 20 players chosen.
McGuire talked with his first pro scout when he was a freshman, and he’s been talking and texting with them since. Men fly in from all over the country just to watch McGuire take an hour of batting practice or to see how he handles himself behind the plate. It all seems a bit much for a teenager to handle, but McGuire, 18, takes it in stride.
“Everyone else is looking at it from a different perspective and comes up to me asking questions,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Come on, guys. Let’s just play our game.’ I’m not trying to focus on it.”
McGuire, 6 feet 1 and 190 pounds, is a student of the game and spends much of his time dissecting the sport or in the batting cage his parents built at their house. His favorite catchers are Buster Posey of the Giants, Yadier Molina of the Cardinals and Joe Mauer of the Twins.
“And they’re all for different reasons,” he says.
He likes Posey because he is calm and poised behind the plate. He likes Molina because “he is more an aggressor. He’s going to be back picking guys, and I just like to let guys know, ‘If you’re going to try to run on me, try to run.’ ” And he likes Mauer for his smooth left-handed swing; McGuire also bats left-handed.
“I take pride in both offense and defense, but I love my defense and just being physically sound back there,” McGuire said. “I like the small things: picking signs from coaches, being in the dugout and picking out a pitcher tipping his pitches. I just love being focused and picking up small details.”
McGuire writes down his goals and displays them on a wall next to his bed so he can see them every day. One of his goals this year: Not to have a passed ball all season. Another was to throw out all base stealers.
McGuire’s throws snap to their destination. He often tries to pick off runners at second base by firing quick throws — from his knees.
If there are questions about McGuire they deal with his bat. He hit .436 with 13 doubles, three triples, four homers and 20 runs batted in this season. But ESPN’s Law wrote, he “still faces questions about his hitting and power tools.”
And yet his defense is so good, his ability to throw so natural, that Baseball America predicted McGuire will become a backup catcher in the big leagues even if his bat doesn’t fully develop. If he hits, though, Baseball America wrote “he has all-star potential.”
“In the two years that I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve seen him throw a ball away or a ball get by him that wasn’t just a wild, wild pitch,” Kentwood assistant Scott Richards said. “He’s gone off the ground to catch fastballs, which is ridiculous as a catcher. He’s fielded bunts, and he’s on it before a batter has stepped a foot outside the box. He’s a freak athlete.”
Said Zender, “He can easily go out and play center field and be one of the best center fielders in the country. Or shortstop. He’s so fast. He’s just a special athlete, even if you take everything else away.”
McGuire carries a supreme confidence, but he hasn’t been flashy with his accomplishments. Before Kentwood had an assembly to present McGuire with his award from USA Baseball, Zender guessed that half the school didn’t know who McGuire was or that he played baseball.
“I really don’t share a lot with them,” McGuire said. “Even with the whole USA deal, a lot of people came up to me like, ‘Dude, we’re best friends, why didn’t you tell me?’ … But I’m really nothing still in a sense. I’ve seen guys come through here, basketball players, football players, that were big-time, but they were also kind of jerks. I don’t want to be that type.”
On a rainy April day at Kentwood, McGuire had one more subtlety to reveal. Kentwood usually ends practices with players trying to hit a line drive to a spot. Without taking a warm-up swing, McGuire stepped into the cage and ripped the second pitch within a few inches of the designated spot.
Kentwood’s coaches or players didn’t have much of a reaction. They’d all seen it before.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or email@example.com