NEW ORLEANS — Thursday was Round Rock Express first baseman Chris McGuiness’ 23rd birthday.
Asked, in light of that, if he was really looking forward to having a big series against the New Orleans Zephyrs starting this weekend, McGuiness said “That would be really nice, something to top off a birthday.”
McGuiness is considered a solid if not top prospect — along with Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt — with the Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. And, for McGuiness, his career of late has been one to celebrate, although he’s no stranger to disappointment.
Last year, he batted .268 at Double-A Frisco of the Texas League, but smacked 23 home runs and 25 doubles while driving in 77 runs. Known for drawing walks since playing in college at the Citadel, he had 69 bases on balls and scored 65 runs. He followed that up by being chosen the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League.
“I spent two months out there, and it was a good ending to a good year,” said McGuiness, who originally was drafted in the 13th round 2009 by the Boston Red Sox. “It was good to put up some numbers. The main thing was that I was completely healthy the whole time.”
Two years ago, he had knee surgery and back ailments that wiped out his season.
The Rangers, who had obtained McGuiness in 2010, brought him up to Round Rock for this season. However, they didn’t sign him to the club’s 40-man Major League roster, and he became a Rule V draftee of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians didn’t add him to their 40-man roster, either, and the Rangers brought him back.
“It was a little disappointing, but there’s a business side of it, too,” he said. “They had some guys they had to protect, and being a first baseman, most teams only carry one of those. It’s tough to break in at that position, but this season I plan to work on being a little more versatile.”
During spring training with the Indians, he got a chance to play right and left field.
“I didn’t mess anything up,” he said, chuckling. “I didn’t make any spectacular plays. I caught the balls I was supposed to catch. I think things went pretty well. I did a lot of drills in the spring and got better. I don’t know what (the Rangers) are going to do, but it can’t hurt to be able to play the outfield, as well.”
He’s batting just .200 with Express, but has shown promise after starting the season 0-for-7 over two games. He got started by walking and scoring a run then singling in a run Saturday in the third game of the season-opening series against Omaha, and he drove in a run the next night, too.
Then, on Monday against the Iowa Cubs, he broke loose, going 3-for-4 with six RBIs, getting a grand slam in the first and a two-run shot in the seventh.
“I do feel I’m adjusting to Triple-A pitching,” he said. “I was overaggressive at first. And, in Double-A, they come right after you early, and when they get behind in the count, they challenge you with fastballs.
“In Triple-A, when they get a 2-0 count, they are going to throw you a cutter or a sinker or a changeup. And, every pitcher has different tendencies, so you have to adjust and go from there. That will help me the next time I face them.”
Heading into Thursday’s games, Round Rock was 5-2 and tied for first place with Oklahoma City in the Pacific Coast League’s American Southern Division. The Zephyrs were in last place in the division, but just 1½ games behind the leaders.
Profar, a shortstop, started the season batting .350 after the series vs. Omaha, but dropped to .250 after two games against Iowa. However, he is the No. 1 prospect in the Rangers’ organization. A switch-hitter, he showed good power last year in Double-A, is considered a good situational hitter and doesn’t strike out much.
Olt, who is being tried at different positions, started out at .217, but also has dropped, as it’s early yet. Nonetheless, he is the No. 2 prospect in the organization. He hits with power.
And, former UNO player Joey Butler returns in his third season with Round Rock and seventh in the minors. The Express’ right fielder, he is hitting .375 thus far.
“A lot of our position players are good, young prospects,” McGuiness said. “But we have some veterans on our pitching staff, a veteran catcher. I think it’s a good mix. We kind of learn from them.”