McGuiness finding way with Rangers

The Texas Rangers recently acquired first base prospect Chris McGuiness from Boston in the Jarrod Saltalamacchia deal. The acquisition not only filled an organizational need, but also it got the club a prospect with an intriguing skill-set. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 22-year-old.

Chris McGuiness has made a career out of exceeding expectations.

As McGuiness came out of James Island High School in Charleston, S.C., he often was told by coaches and scouts that his path to professional baseball would likely come via his work on the pitcher's mound.

But the more McGuiness was allowed to hit, the more he produced.

The former two-way prospect entered his freshman campaign at The Citadel practically splitting his pitching and position-playing at an even 50/50. But after logging 70 total innings on the mound in his freshman and sophomore years, he eventually gave up pitching to become a full-time position player.

McGuiness' move immediately paid dividends and certainly helped boost his draft stock. The first baseman went on to bat .359 with 15 doubles and 15 homers in his junior campaign with the Bulldogs. He also posted an incredible .525 on-base percentage, leading the nation with 65 walks (versus 22 strikeouts) in 59 contests.

The Boston Red Sox were intrigued by McGuiness' bat and selected him in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound lefty chose to forego his senior season of college to sign his first professional contract.

McGuiness had a strong debut with short-season Lowell in the summer of '09, posting a .255/.374/.434 slash line while showing excellent discipline to go along with a little pop.

The 22-year-old began his first full season at Single-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League, and his numbers were even better. In 78 games, he was hitting .298 with 20 doubles, 12 homers, and 53 walks (against 59 strikeouts). Though he left the Drive over two weeks ago, he still leads the club in home runs and walks.

The Rangers acquired McGuiness––along with two other prospects––from Boston for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the July 31 trade deadline. His strong production in Low-A led the Rangers to give him an immediate promotion, sending him to High-A Bakersfield.

Since joining the Blaze, McGuiness has continued to hit well. He is 14-for-47 (.298) with seven walks and nine strikeouts in his first 13 California League contests.

The addition of McGuiness fills an organizational need for the Rangers, who are thin at first base throughout the minor league system. On the flip side, first base may have been Boston's strongest position, with prospects like Lars Anderson and Anthony Rizzo waiting in the wings.

As a prospect with an excellent eye for the strike zone, a bit of power, and an above-average glove at first base, McGuiness was more than just a throw-in. His intriguing skill-set makes him perhaps the Rangers' top first base prospect in the minors.

Jason Cole: To start it off, just tell me how you heard about the trade.

Chris McGuiness: I was playing with the Greenville Drive, and we were on a six- or eight-day road trip. We had just one more game left in Charleston, South Carolina––my hometown.

We were hitting batting practice and I was sitting down in the tunnel. Some buddies of mine were joking about the trade deadline. It was like two minutes until the deadline, and we were jokingly saying, ‘We may get traded,' and all that stuff. I didn't hardly get that out of my mouth, and the manager came in there and was like, ‘Hey Chris, I need to talk to you for a second.' I didn't have a clue what was going on.

He walked me in the office and said, ‘You've just been traded.' He's a good guy and always pulling jokes with the players and stuff, so I just thought he was full of it. I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever man.' And he said, ‘No, really. You just got traded.' Then he showed me the call and told me it was with Texas. It just all hit me by surprise because I'd never heard anything about it. It was completely out of the blue.

Cole: What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the trade? And what were you thinking once it sunk it?

McGuiness: First off, I was just in shock. I wasn't really sure what to think. I had been with Boston and it was a good organization. I was familiar with my coaches, the rovers, and everybody in the front office. It was a comfortable setting, and my feet were already wet. I was in my first full year, so I was very comfortable there.

So I wasn't real anxious to leave there, but Boston has a lot of talent in their farm system. They've got two or three prospects––young guys that are putting up real good numbers––in front of me. I knew I had my work cut out moving up in that organization. So it was kind of a double-edged sword. It was fun and it was a great organization to be with––it was on the east coast and right by my house. But for my career, it probably wasn't the best organization for me to be in just because they were so deep.

So I started thinking about that and the whole shock kind of got away. I thought about moving away and being on the other side of the country. That sucks, but at the same time I thought, ‘It's a race to get to the big leagues. Everybody is trying to do it, and the less people you have in your way, the better chance you have of making it.'

And I know Texas isn't quite as deep as Boston was in the first base category, from what I hear. So hopefully it'll be a good fit and I can get adjusted down here with the team and start playing well. Who knows––we'll see where it takes me.

Cole: You played your college ball fairly close to home and were close to home in Greenville this year. Is Bakersfield really the first time you've played a long way from friends and family?

McGuiness: It's probably my second time. I played a full summer in Chicago, Illinois. It was after my freshman year of college. That was the farthest I've been away from home. It was for two months in the summer. So that was probably my first real time away from home. But after that, everything was pretty close. Illinois was the first time I wasn't within driving distance of home. And now you couldn't put me farther away from home.

It's different, but at some point in my career I knew––Charleston doesn't have a Major League team. I knew I was going to be away from home. So I guess in that sense, it's better that I jump in there and get that out of the way and get used to it. The sooner, the better.

Cole: The Rangers have a few guys in the system from South Carolina. Do you know anyone in the system heading into it?

McGuiness: I knew of Doug Hogan just because he played at Clemson. They were on the news back home and he was a good player for them. I'd heard of the name. I do know Justin Smoak, but he's no longer with the Rangers. I played high school and college ball against him. We share some good mutual friends. I know him and the kid I played travel ball with––we share the same agent––Ben Henry. He's pitching out in Spokane. I played in a travel league with him for two years.

I know two guys in the organization right now, plus the guy we got from Boston in the trade. But other than that, this team is 30 unfamiliar faces. It's different to walk into a new clubhouse, but everybody has been real receptive and nice guys, so that has made it easier.

Cole: I want to talk about your time in college, as you played at a military school in The Citadel. Is the experience for a baseball player there any different than what you'd get at a traditional university?

McGuiness: Oh yeah. It's night and day. The Citadel is a unique place. It's big, old military-style barracks. You're told when to wake up, when to eat, how much to eat as a freshman, and all that stuff. So you really don't have much choice with what you're going to do in your free time and all that.

But as you get older, you get higher up––it's run by cadets, or students. So as you get older and you get more pull, you get more decisions and leeway. But it's not your typical college where you can leave on a Tuesday and go out. Nobody can actually leave there except for Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So they put you on lockdown for a long time. It's not for everybody, but it was a good decision and I learned a lot there. You have to take the good with the bad and I think it was the best thing for me.

Cole: You pitched quite a bit during your freshman and sophomore years at The Citadel. Did you ever have scouts talking to you about a potential future on the mound?

McGuiness: Coming out of high school, yeah. I was getting a good amount of looks for pitching. I had a pretty good arm, but after my junior year of high school, I did some damage to some ligaments in my elbow. I'm not really sure what the diagnosis was––I didn't have surgery or anything. But I sat out for awhile and when I came back, I didn't have the velocity.

I had some scouts say that I'd never be a hitter in pro ball and pitching was the way to go. But pitching one day and sitting out for five––it just wasn't for me. I want to be out there and playing every day. I just said, ‘Heck, I'm giving up pitching and I'm going to hit.'

I wanted to be a hitter and do what I enjoy doing. I thought, ‘If it works out, it works out. If not, then it wasn't meant to be.' I ended up getting a chance––Boston gave me a chance to it and the rest is history.

Cole: You got a couple at-bats in big league camp this year, even though it was your first Spring Training. What was that experience was like?

McGuiness: It was a dream come true. Getting out there and sitting in a dugout and a locker room with Ortiz and Youkilis––all the big name guys that you watch on TV. The guys that everybody dreams to meet one day. I was eating lunch with them and sharing a clubhouse with them. I just kept pinching myself to make sure it was really happening, because it's not something you get to do every day.

I tried to take it all in and enjoy it. It was a packed stadium. If I told you I wasn't nervous, I'd be lying to you. But it's the same game and I was fortunate enough to get a hit. I won't tell you how I got it, but it goes down as a hit in the books. My family and all my buddies were watching back home, so it was a great experience.

Cole: How nice is it to join a Bakersfield team that is currently in first place by more than a couple games?

McGuiness: It's nice. I don't know how many games they've played, but they have to be around 105 or 110 or so. They've been doing it for a full season. They've got really good team chemistry. Everybody has got a role and they know their role. That's one of the things––I'm just trying to get in here and establish what they need me to do.

I want to find my job and do it the best I can. I'm not trying to step on any toes. I just want to sit back and take everything in and go out there and play ball. So far we've been doing pretty well and hopefully we can keep it going and bring back a championship.

Cole: When you got the initial call from the Rangers, they told you that you were immediately promoted to High-A. What did they tell you went into that decision?

McGuiness: I didn't really know much. I talked with Scott Servais. It was the first time I'd ever spoken to him. He was like, ‘We're sending you to Bakersfield.' I just kind of laughed and said, ‘Where is that at?' Then he told me it was in California and I said, ‘Man, that's out there.' He told me that it was the High-A team, that they're doing well, and that it was a promotion for me.

Like I said earlier, it's the same game and it's a race––I'm trying to get there as quick as I can. I hadn't been promoted with Boston, then I get traded to Texas and they send me right up. It's a good deal for me and, like I said, I'm just going out there and trying to do the best I can to win some ballgames.

Cole: What are your thoughts on your overall performance this season?

McGuiness: It's going pretty well. I had a lot of small injuries––nagging injuries that have been coming back and forth throughout the season. Some stuff that has been out of my control. I worked hard in the offseason to get my body in shape for a long season because I knew it was going to be rough.

My body is holding up well physically, but I've just had some injuries with my hamate or on my knee that I really couldn't control. They set me back and it was hard not being consistently in the lineup. But when I was in the lineup and healthy––sticking with my approach, things were going my way pretty well. I was happy with the numbers that I put up.

Out here, it's probably a mix of a different league, different atmosphere, new team and I'm just probably trying to do a little bit too much and get my name out there. Normally when you do things like that, they don't go your way. So I've got to slow it down and play the type of game I can play. Hopefully things will work out for me. Right now it's just trying to go out there and stick with my approach on the field hitting-wise and help out as much as I can on defense. That's really all I can do.

Cole: You've always been a guy that has drawn a high number of walks. Can you talk a little about your approach at the plate?

McGuiness: I just trying not to get myself out early. I've got a game-plan––I try not to let pitchers alter my game-plan. I know what my strengths are and I try to stick to them. I want to get a pitch I can handle early and not chase offspeed pitches that they're trying to get me to roll over and get out with.

I just stick with the pitches that I can handle. If I get it, I try to put a good swing on it. I don't want to miss them but it happens. It has worked out for me so far. One of the things they stressed with Boston was that any plan is better than no plan. So pick what you're going to do and don't waver from that. That's what I've been trying to do so far.

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