PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) – It’s just another chance to put on the Pirates uniform that puts Mike LaValliere right back where he wants to be. The former Pirates catcher returned again this year to be an instructor during Pirates Spring Training.
“I’ve got the business suit that fits me best, coming and putting on the uniform, now I’m in my comfort zone,” LaValliere said. “Like a duck in a pond.”
Now 55, the Florida resident says he likes to spend more time listening than anything and hopes his experiences can rub off on a few guys. He will chip in and throw batting practice, joking a few times it’s been like dodge ball for the hitters. LaValliere did note he made a little tweak to Chris Stewart’s footwork at camp, but “it’s not like I can come in here with a wrench and a screwdriver and start fixing somebody’s mechanics.”
LaValliere played for the Pirates for six years, after being a part of the trade in April of ’87 that sent Tony Pena to St. Louis and brought Andy Van Slyke and Mike Dunne to Pittsburgh. He won a Gold Glove in his first season and three times was in the top three in the National League in fielding percentage among catchers.
“There was an aura of like ‘wow you were a Pirate’, you were a bad ass,” LaValliere said. “We were always worried about you guys. You become proud of the past and the last 4-5 years here they’ve done a great job of returning that pride to the uniform.”
With veterans like Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, LaValliere doesn’t need to do much, but did offer some thoughts about three of the Pirates young catching prospects.
The 25-year-old was a 2015 International League All-Star and a member of the All-Star Futures Game and was also recognized as the best defensive catcher in all of minor league baseball by Baseball America.
“If something should happen at the big league level, I think management is comfortable enough to get him up here,” LaValliere said. “He’s pretty ready. I think the game has slowed down for him, he’s handling his emotions a little better. There is still some fine tuning to be done, but he’s very, very close.”
The 26-year-old hit .275 with Altoona last year finishing with a .994 fielding percentage, with no passed balls and did not make an error in his final 56 games.
“You would expect him to be a little bit slower being so big, it’s hard to fold up 6’5” into the catching position,” LaValliere said of the former basketball player and Pirates seventh round pick. “He’s incredibly flexible, his legs are really strong. He has a lot more agility than people would ever give him credit for, he moves extremely well behind the plate.”
Just turned 21-years-old, the former first round pick was named a 2015 Arizona Fall League Rising Star and a Florida State League All-Star. McGurie played in 98 games at high-A Bradenton, hitting .254 with 11 errors.
-Cervelli and Stewart are great with Reese, Cervelli will take him aside and teach him a few things
“All he needs is just seasoning, the kid has a great work ethic, he’s got a great release, he swings the bat incredibly well,” LaValliere said. “You just want this kid to continue to thrive and continue up the ladder.” LaValliere added Cervelli has taken him aside during camp to teach him a few things.
LaValliere is known for his stories, which draw smiles from players. He was asked to compare this time in Pirates history to the early 90s. He said the star-studded outfield and big front half of the rotation are similar and then added “I tell you what really is similar is how everybody has got their back. That was our key back in the day, we policed ourselves. We picked each other up. That is what it’s about and I see a lot of that here.”