It's an odd thing to consider how a 26-year-old catcher, who was designated for assignment before the season began, has morphed into an offensive contributor in one of baseball's best batting orders.
Yet here we are, 76 games into the season, and Reese McGuire has earned his way into the Blue Jays' starting catching conversation.
With Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen on the injured list, McGuire has taken full advantage. His season started off slower, but lately McGuire has started shooting the ball to all fields, using both gaps to rack up extra-base-hits. His .357 batting average in the month of June is first among all MLB catchers with at least 60 plate appearances. His six doubles this month are tied for first among catchers and his .918 OPS ranks fifth.
"Whatever situation I walk up to the plate in, whether it's guys on base, nobody on, nobody out, two outs, [I'm] just trying to flip that lineup over and get Semien going again. He's knocking me around the bases lately," McGuire said after Sunday's win over Baltimore.
McGuire's production from the ninth spot is extra valuable because it sets the table for the top of Toronto's dangerous order, but it's also refreshing since Blue Jays' catchers managed just a .587 OPS before June 1 — 23rd in baseball during that time.
For all the good McGuire's done, his hot streak at the plate puts Blue Jays' management in a mid-season conundrum. The team will soon have three active, major-league-ready catchers, but just two spots on the roster.
Riley Adams is slashing .080/.115/.120 through his first 11 major league games, which all but guarantees he'll return to Triple A when either Kirk or Jansen are back from the IL.
Kirk's hip flexor is improving — a rehab stint in Triple A is coming soon — and he's eligible to return from the 60-day IL on July 2. Jansen's missed three weeks with a hamstring strain, but recently swung the bat and caught a bullpen as he progresses towards a return to action.
Kirk's bat makes him a lock for one of the catching spots when he's back, so it comes down to either McGuire or Jansen for the No. 2 role. McGuire has no minor league options left. Jansen, however, has two options remaining. If the decision were based on offense alone, this wouldn't be a tough choice. McGuire has a .321 batting average, while Jansen is hitting .157/.248/.278 through 42 games.
But, as a catcher, defense — which includes game-calling, framing, and rapport with pitchers — is of added importance, and those are Jansen's strengths. Jansen sits in the 55th percentile in framing, according to Baseball Savant — significantly better than McGuire's 31st percentile ranking. Jansen is also Hyun Jin Ryu's personal catcher and the Blue Jays' ace has pitched to an uncharacteristically high 3.86 ERA in four starts without his bespectacled battery mate.
In the end, it comes down to what Blue Jays management values more. If Toronto wants to keep a hotter-hitting, left-handed bat as a compliment to Kirk, then McGuire's the guy. If defense and experience with the Blue Jays' pitching staff is the need, then there's a chance Jansen sticks and McGuire hits waivers.
Still, it would be really hard to justify demoting a guy like McGuire who's been churning out base hits over the last month — meaning Jansen may find himself in Triple A for the first time since he debuted in 2018.