Overlooked no more, McGuiness making case at first
Left-handed hitter has opened spring on a tear, impressing Hurdle, Huntington
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Pirates decision makers are beginning to reconsider whether they really will have a crisis at first base if Gaby Sanchez turns out to need a lefty-hitting platoon mate.
The more Clint Hurdle sees of Chris McGuiness, the more the manager is impressed, if somewhat confused.
McGuiness' two hardest-hit balls early in spring play have come off Jeremy Bleich and Henry Owens, both doubles, the latter breaking a 6-6 tie in the eighth on Monday to give the Bucs a 7-6 win over Boston. Bleich and Owens are left-handers; so much for profiling McGuiness as a spot player against righties.
"Lefty versus lefty off a good pitcher ... showed up a couple of times," Hurdle said. "His best balls have been hit off left-handed pitching."
And the more fans hear about McGuiness, the more they will pay attention. The 25-year-old South Carolinian took a .500 spring average into Tuesday's game against the Tigers, which turned into one of those hiccups everyone has to endure and overcome. McGuiness struck out in both of his at-bats, and he booted a ball at first that turned into a pair of Detroit runs.
Still, he ended the day as a .417-hitter this spring, and maintaining a pace anything close to that will seriously blow his tendency to be overlooked.
What do we mean?
McGuiness was a member of the Arizona Fall League class of '11, which also included Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and, on the pitching end, Gerrit Cole.
The AFL Most Valuable Player that season was McGuiness.
It was even easier for the Texas Rangers to look past McGuiness when they swung a late-November deal for first baseman Prince Fielder, then in late December signed free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. So three days later, they dealt McGuiness to the Pirates for pitcher Miles Mikolas.
"Absolutely, I looked at it like a good opportunity. Anywhere I went, I knew it would be a better fit for me than it was in Texas," McGuiness said. "I played first base primarily, but also played a little bit of outfield last year, so them getting two guys that played the positions I do kind of blocked me."
The last time Texas dealt away a "blocked" left-handed hitting first baseman, it turned out pretty well for the receiving team. Chris Davis was sent to Baltimore in the middle of the 2011 season, because the Rangers wanted to get Mike Napoli and Michael Young into a first-base rotation. Davis has hit 88 homers for the Orioles in 2 1/2 seasons, including 53 last year.
"Yeah," McGuiness said, grinning. "If I can hit a third of the home runs Davis has, I'll be all right."
As further incentive, McGuiness has been told about the short right-field porch at PNC Park. To get an up-close look at the Clemente Wall, he just has to keep swinging the way he has, because, as GM Neal Huntington said, "He's off to a real nice start. He's in the mix."
"We like the kid," Hurdle said of McGuiness. "We got him here for a reason, to provide some depth. He has an outside opportunity to possibly break with the club, and we'll see where he can take it."
When you are starting your sixth year in pro baseball and trying to make a team, every spring day is an adventure. Monday was particularly adventuresome: McGuiness got to hit the tie-breaking double in the bottom of the eighth, because in the top of the inning, the Red Sox had rallied on a two-run homer by Mike Carp, the lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder reportedly on the Pirates' watch-list of possible acquisitions.
Did that scenario cross McGuiness' mind at all?
"Nah," he said. "That's why they have Clint and Neal and all those scouts and front-office people. Their job is to go out and evaluate -- and my job is to go and play and try to make it a tough decision for whoever has to make it.
"As players, the more we let our minds get cluttered with stuff like that ... it leads to a downward spiral. So, just compete and play to the best of your ability, and whatever happens, happens."
One week into the Grapefruit League, though, McGuiness is making it happen.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.