Though Brandon Guyer was an All-Met third baseman in his senior year at Herndon, he had no hope of staying at that position when he began his Virginia career thanks to the presence of Ryan Zimmerman. That hasn’t derailed him at all, as he has worked his way to the verge of the major leagues as an outfielder.
In Guyer’s first year in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, he leads the Class AAA International League with a .630 slugging percentage. He’s fourth in batting average (.370), tied for fifth in home runs (six), sixth in on-base percentage (.427) and tied for seventh in RBI (18). He has played all three outfield positions, mostly the corners, and is the regular No. 3 hitter for the Durham Bulls.
Guyer, an honorable mention All-Met in football for the Hornets, played running back and linebacker in high school and “goes hard all the time,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said Wednesday. “At times, he plays the game of baseball like it’s football.”
The Rays acquired Guyer in an eight-player deal that sent right-hander Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs in January.
“There’s a little adjustment I’ve had to make, meeting new coaches and players,” Guyer said in a phone interview on Monday while the Bulls were in Indianapolis. “I’m just trying to build off what I did last year, trying to keep things simple.”
Guyer, 25, dislocated his shoulder early last season but managed to hit .344 with a .398 on-base percentage and .588 slugging percentage in 102 games in the Class AA Southern League.
This past offseason, Guyer was rated as the No. 10 prospect in the Cubs’ system by Baseball America. The 2007 fifth-round pick was a key part of the Garza deal, but outfielder Sam Fuld also was included, and Fuld has provided a lift to the major league club.
Guyer has accepted the change well, as he did during his first year in Charlottesville when he moved to left field.
“Brandon was a very gifted athlete coming out of high school,” O’Connor said. “We felt that from an offensive standpoint, he could impact our team right away. He took to the outfield pretty quickly.”
Remaining healthy would help Guyer’s chances of making the majors and staying there. Guyer, who played for longtime coach Al McCullock at Herndon, says he won’t slide head first into the bases after dislocating his left (non-throwing) shoulder on a dive into second last year. His three-year Virginia career ended in 2007 with an injury to the same shoulder on a collision at the plate in regionals against Oregon State.
“I’ve had no surgeries — just rehabbed it hard,” Guyer said. “I try not to think of it too much. Maybe in the field it comes into play on certain dives, but I try not to think of it.”
The Cavaliers won the game in which Guyer was injured, but they then lost two on their home field to the Beavers without him. In that same NCAA tournament, Oregon State won its second straight national title.
Zimmerman reached Washington less than three months after being taken fourth overall in 2005. Guyer, an outfielder all three of his seasons with the Cavaliers, has taken a more typical route through the minors and had to cope with being traded.
“It surprised me, but at the same time I know it’s a business and anything can happen,” Guyer said. “It was bittersweet because I made so many good friends with the Cubs, but I thought this might be a good opportunity.”
Guyer spent much of the offseason back home, and he worked camps at Sterling Diamond Sports Training with current Hornets baseball Coach Greg Miller. He also saw his high school coach, who might have to make travel plans.
“We’re hoping we could make a road trip to Tampa,” the retired McCullock said. “I saw Brandon during the winter and he said, ‘It all comes down to performance.’ He’s going out and doing it.”