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2023 Positional Preview: Is there anything Reese McGuire can do to make people forget about, you know, that thing?

Catching is not a strength for the 2023 Red Sox. But it doesn’t have to be a weakness.

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Starter

The first time that Reese McGuire meets anyone, he probably wonders if they’re thinking about that thing. Honestly, I don’t know whether it’s fair or appropriate that he’ll be tagged with this criminal incident forever. Some people might say that anyone who did what he did is a legitimate threat to public safety, that they’re capable of doing much worse, and that they shouldn’t be given a pass by anyone. Maybe those people are right! I certainly don’t have the qualifications to disagree. But other people might say that, as far as we know, it was a one-time indiscretion, that it might have been borne of internal demons that could haunt anybody, that he owned up to his behavior, and that he deserves a second chance. And some people just think the whole thing’s funny. As far as I know, any of these people could be right. I’m going to commit a cardinal sin of internet writing and admit that I’m not an expert and I’m not even sure how I feel about it. I expect an admonishment from the Internet Hot Take Police any minute now.

But what I do know, is that it absolutely was the first thing Red Sox fans talked about following the trade. We still talk about it now, and that we probably always will to some extent. But as of today, it isn’t the only thing Red Sox fans talk about when Reese McGuire is brought up anymore, and I suspect the reason for that, fortunately for Reese, is that he was pretty damn good after the trade last year.

McGuire slashed .337/.377/.500 with 3 homers in his 36 games with the Red Sox last year. He accumulated 0.9 bWAR, which, had he been able to maintain that pace for a whole season, would have made him roughly as valuable as Dodgers catcher Will Smith. In other words, Reese McGuire made a really, really good first impression as a ballplayer last year, and it’s probably for that reason alone that many Sox fans now do see him as a ballplayer, instead of merely a deviant.

So the question is: can he keep it up?

I’ll just go ahead and answer that now: no, he can’t. If he were to be as good going forward as he was last year, then he’d be a Hall Of Fame catcher. He is very much not that. In fact, the 3 homers he hit for the Sox represent one-quarter of all home runs he’s ever hit in his 5-year big league career. He’s a career .256/.301/.381 hitter. And while you’re free to be optimistic and suggest that he might outproduce that now that he’s finally been given an everyday role for the first time in his life, we can’t realistically expect much more than that.

However, offensive production from catchers is so poor across the league that McGuire’s career slash line would be about league-average. A .256 batting average would’ve been the 7th best among all catchers with at least 300 plate appearances last year; the .301 OBP would’ve been 14th; and the .381 slugging 16th. Combine that with competent defense and most fans probably wouldn’t complain. Would that be enough for fans to forget about, you know, that thing? Probably not. But there’s probably nothing McGuire could to in that regard, anyway.

The Bench/Platoon Options

2023 World Baseball Classic Pool C: Game 1 Team Colombia v. Team Mexico Photo by Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As of today, we still don’t know who Reese McGuire’s primary backup will be. Connor Wong has always seemed to have the inside track, owing to the fact that, unlike Jorge Alfaro, he’s already on the 40-man roster. But frankly, a case could be made that Alfaro is the single best catcher of anyone in the Red Sox organization right now (he’s certainly the most experienced). And Wong’s injury, though minor, complicates things for opening day, at least.

Alfaro has an elite arm, a power bat, and is one of the most athletic catchers in baseball. He also strikes out a ton, struggles against righties, and has trouble receiving the ball, which is why he hasn’t been able to stick as a team’s primary catching option. Wong has a similar — though unproven — hitting profile as a guy with good power who struggles to make contact. And like Alfaro, he’s an outstanding athlete, having split time in college between catcher and shortstop. He’s never projected as anything more than a backup catcher, but his strong showing in Worcester last year (.288/.349/.489 with 15 home runs) certainly raised some eyebrows.

Minor League Depth

There is no “catcher of the future” waiting in the upper minors right now. Either Ronaldo Hernandez or Caleb Hamilton will likely start the year as one-half of Worcester’s catching duo. In Portland, we’re looking at Stephen Scott and Elih Marrero. None of them are looked at as future big league regulars. The minor league depth will be either Wong or Alfaro, whoever doesn’t make the 26-man roster.

FanGraphs Projections

Divisional Rankings

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Baltimore Orioles
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Boston Red Sox

The Blue Jays don’t just have the best catching tandem in the American League East — it’s one of the best catching tandems in recent memory. Both Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen are All Star caliber catchers (Kirk was one, last year), and they’re playing the same position for the same team.

Having said that, Orioles catchers could end up being even better than Toronto’s. This is not because they have two guys who can compete with Kirk and Jansen, but because they have one guy, Adley Rutschmann, who has the potential to be the best catcher in baseball for the next decade.

After we get past the birds, though, there’s a sizable drop to the next three teams. It’s conceivable that any of the Sox, Yankees, or Rays could end up with the third best catching in the division at year’s end. But the Sox catching situation is more of a question mark than the other two teams.