WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Reese McGuire could have taken the night off Tuesday. But the Red Sox catcher took the team bus across the state to watch the game against the Miami Marlins.
That’s right, just to watch. McGuire didn’t play in the game.
McGuire wanted to put his own eyes on the two innings Corey Kluber pitched so he’d be better prepared when he caught the righthander in a game for the first time.
“Just to get a sense of what he’s doing,” McGuire said.
That attention to detail is something that has registered with the coaching staff. In McGuire, they see a player eager to prove he belongs.
“I have a great opportunity here,” McGuire said Wednesday before catching four innings and going 1 for 2 with a double as the Sox tied the Houston Astros, 4-4. “I want to take advantage of it.”
McGuire, who turns 28 Thursday, has played parts of five seasons in the major leagues, always as a part-timer.
He has yet to start more than 70 games in a season and his only appearance in a playoff game was to catch half an inning in a loss with the Blue Jays in 2020.
As part of their convoluted add-and-subtract strategy at the trade deadline last season, the Red Sox obtained McGuire from the White Sox for walk-prone reliever Jake Diekman.
McGuire started 26 of the remaining 58 games, hitting .337 with a .877 OPS. He was a career .241 hitter with .646 OPS before joining the Red Sox, so it’s unlikely that will continue.
But with most catchers, it’s everything else that matters, and McGuire has earned the approval of catching coach Jason Varitek.
“Good arm, he blocks [balls in the dirt], and he’s in tune with the pitchers,” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s learned a lot the hard way. He’s been in this position before.
“He’s a veteran but he’s not a veteran. Tek feels very comfortable with him, the way he interacts with the pitchers, the way he goes about the scouting reports.”
It’s likely the Red Sox open the season with the lefthanded-hitting McGuire and righthanded-hitting Connor Wong on the roster.
“It’s not a strict platoon situation if that’s the case,” Cora said. “Wong can hit righties, too, and Reese can hit lefties. We’ll see how we do it. We’ll see what the roster is and we’ll make decisions.”
With the new rules designed to promote base stealing, McGuire’s strong arm is an asset. He threw out five runners in 12 attempts with the Red Sox last season.
He’s also inexpensive, having avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.23 million deal in January.
“I don’t assume anything,” McGuire said. “You never know. A lot of things happen in the offseason, things that are out of your control. All you can do is put your work in and be prepared when you come into spring training.”
McGuire caught a variety of pitchers over the final two months of last season as the Red Sox slogged to a last-place finish. Cora credited him for maintaining a good attitude under challenging circumstances.
There were times McGuire hadn’t caught a pitcher until he came into the game.
“I feel like as a catcher you like that,” McGuire said. “You like being able to catch different guys and learn them. Sometimes you get thrown in the fire and it’s the first time you’re working with them.
“I feel like that’s part of our nature being behind the dish, constantly having moving parts and dealing with different pitchers. The coaches really helped me with a lot of communication. We sat down a lot and had conversations right through to the end of the season.”
McGuire was a 16-year-old living in the Seattle suburbs when Varitek played his final game. He acknowledges he doesn’t know much about his coach’s playing career.
But McGuire did know Varitek’s reputation as an exacting coach.
“That was the most exciting thing I was looking forward to, getting a full spring training with Varitek,” he said. “Just learning as much as I can.
“He has so much experience and so much to offer. He’s very coachable being a coach. He and I bounce ideas off each other and talk about different things and that sparks a new idea all of a sudden. Working with Jason Varitek is pretty damn cool.”