Welcome to our latest installment of Road to the Show with Chris McGuiness.
Chris McGuiness was drafted by the Red Sox in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB draft out of the Citadel. McGuiness was the nation’s leader in walks in 2009 with 65, posting a .520 OBP. McGuiness started off as a two way player in college, playing first base as well as pitching. He eventually chose to focus on playing every day and has found success, as shown by his impressive college numbers and his good start in Lowell. McGuiness attended high school in his hometown of James Island, SC, so his trip north to Lowell is something of a change of pace for him. McGuiness prides himself on routine and is a hard worker who passed up his senior year for the chance to play for the Red Sox.
McGuiness took some time to sit down with the Spinners Blog to answer some questions.
Growing up in James Island, South Carolina, you chose to attend The Citadel Military College which was only a 5-minute drive from your house. Did you know all along that you wanted to stay close to home, or was it for another reason such as the school’s connection to the armed forces?
I really had no desire to go into the armed forces, so it was strictly athletics. I had some other offers out of state, a couple in North Carolina, and a bunch more from upstate South Carolina. The Citadel just had so much to offer. I really couldn’t pass it up, from the scholarship they offered to the local connection with friends.
With the Citadel degree being as prestigious as it is, that was definitely another deciding factor too. Their alumni network is amazing once you get of school, so it kind of all fit together and ended up being the best place for me in the end.
You ended up pitching 49.1 innings your freshman year at The Citadel, compared to just 107 at-bats as a 1B. Was this split something you anticipated coming out of high school, or were you somewhat surprised by how your coaches played you initially?
Ironically, I got recruited out of high school a lot more for pitching than I did hitting. The fact that I was left-handed attracted a lot of programs, especially the larger ones. A lot of schools wanted me to come just to pitch, and that was one of the reasons I didn’t go to a larger program. The Citadel was serious about giving me a chance to go both ways.
Having to prepare for two different positions, that must have had some kind of affect on your approach. Was it any tougher for you, either physically or mentally, to be ready for a surprise every day when you read the lineup card?
It definitely put a larger strain on my body than my head. Pitchers know, especially, that if you throw 5 or 6 innings one day, you’ll definitely be feeling it when you wake up the next day. You ice, and everything still gets stiff. Normally pitchers do some light running or throwing on their off days, but I’d have to go out and play 1B.
The first day after I pitched, I always felt like my swing was dragging a little bit because my left hand was my top one. It was just a situation where you had to come in early to get stretched out and find other ways to compensate.
The following season, your role began to change as you pitched just 20.2 innings. Coupled with the major increase in at-bats, how did you feel about this movement towards playing everyday as a position player as opposed to every five days on the mound?
My role changing actually had a lot to do with the guys we came in with my freshman year. We were a lot stronger hitting than we were pitching wise that year, but a lot of people graduated after that season. Some positions opened up, and that gave me a chance to play everyday at first base.
As far as a personal preference, I think the coaches knew that pitching wasn’t too high on my priority list. I was ready for whatever helped the team win, whether they needed me to pitch or swing the bat. I’d go out and do both the best I could, but they knew all along that my choice was to be in the batter’s box. The feeling of hitting a homerun, at least to me, is much more incredible than striking someone out. The game would be boring without homeruns.
By the time your junior season rolled around, you had made a complete transition to first base. Given the chance to play everyday, you bashed 15 homeruns to go along with 59 runs batted in. Was this power something you always had, or was it more of a natural maturation into your frame that you came to school with as a freshman?
A lot of people don’t realize that The Citadel had a work ethic that was second to none. From the amount of time spent in the weight-room to the early morning runs, I don’t think anyone works harder. The preparation was absolutely a huge part of my development as a player.
The military schedule had to have helped out in some way. My body was changing, and I’m sure going back to play summer ball helped me find my stroke. Really, it was a combination of a lot of things coming together at the right time.
In just 59 games played that season, you worked a nation leading 65 walks. With a .520 OBP that year, it would be easy to classify you as a very disciplined hitter. Was this approach in the box helped by your time spent on the mound earlier in your career, or was it something you worked at with extra time in the cage?
I really don’t know where the walks came from, to be honest with you. I would say I have a good eye up at bat, but most of the time the pitchers just weren’t throwing me anything to hit. It was probably just as much their inconsistencies as my selectiveness.
Being a former pitcher never really played to my advantage, mostly because every guy has different stuff out there. If they’re not throwing you strikes, there’s nothing you can do about it. I guess you can chase balls out of the zone, but I was fortunate enough to avoid that.
On the day of the Draft, you were selected in the 13th round (408th overall) by the Boston Red Sox. A contract was agreed upon not long after, and you were immediately assigned to Lowell. Was there ever any doubt during this process, specifically regarding what it would take to make you forego your senior season at The Citadel?
There were absolutely times when I questioned what was going to happen. I had certain guidelines and standards going into the whole draft process, so it was an interesting day. I had a floor for what amount of money it would take to make me leave school, but it wasn’t 100% concrete. There wasn’t necessarily a set round that I was looking at, but I was pretty blunt in letting teams know about the monetary situation.
I wanted to be truthful with every one, so I told them that I’d have no problem going back to school if the right offer never materialized. With the degree being so prestigious, I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if they couldn’t give me what I wanted. I was pretty straightforward, definitely not one of those kids who used the word ‘might.’
Since arriving in Lowell, you’ve basically batted cleanup everyday while playing first base defensively. How are you adjusting to life up here as a professional, in terms of minimal off days and increased competition?
It’s tough, but I think the most important part is rest. Being from a military school, I was definitely never a big party guy. That whole mindset helped train me to the point I’m at now. After games, there are a lot of players who want to go out, but that’s not even a question for me.
I’m going back to my room, eating, taking a shower, and going straight to bed. Then in the morning, I’ll get up early to eat some breakfast and head right to the park. Sleep is definitely a huge part of being ready on game days. It’s the best way to recover from wear and tear.
Is there any part of your game that you’re hoping to sharpen with the help of the Spinners’ coaching staff?
Right now, I’m struggling with my two-strike approach. I don’t know whether it is something I’ve done differently, or if it’s the increase in competition level. I’m still adjusting become some of the pitchers are more skilled than I’m used to. Once I get comfortable, though, I’m confident that I’ll be able to put it all together.
Overall, I want to be more consistent with my contact and just get the barrel of the bat on the ball every chance I get. Hitting the ball hard is always the key, no matter what situation you’re in.
When the season comes to a close in September, what are your plans as far as going home to see your family or sticking around for more direction from the Red Sox?
I’m not really sure what Boston has in store for the first year players, but I’ll definitely get back into the facilities back at [The Citadel]. We have some great workout plans there, and it’s only a five minute drive from my house. I’m going to hit it hard no matter where I end up, and I’ll be looking forward to starting up organized ball next spring.
Check back soon for our next installment!