Double-A Hartford’s catcher took national stage at Coors Field
When he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the ninth round of the 2018 MLB draft, it wasn’t quite clear what the future held for University of Washington product Willie MacIver. A catcher in high school, Willie played mostly third base in college before the Rockies drafted and started developing him exclusively as a catcher. In his first full season of professional ball, MacIver slashed .252/.319/.421 with 43 extra base hits and 13 home runs, along with a wRC+ of 115.
That’s a pretty decent stat line for your first season, but predictions seemed to place him solidly as a “backup catcher” for the future. His MLB Pipeline scouting report suggests “he could be a solid backup catcher in the big leagues in the future,” and our own PuRPs rankings for 2021 had him as an honorable mention at No. 32, saying “MacIver seems likely to inherit the back-up catcher prospect mantle from Dom Nuñez when he graduates, but at this point I don’t see a starting backstop.”
Halfway through the season, “Willie Mac” has been one of the best surprises of the Rockies’ farm system. Starting the season in High-A Spokane, MacIver slashed .286/.395/.542 with 10 home runs in 168 at-bats, with a wRC+ of a fantastic 157. In addition to his bat, he’s proven a solid speed threat, stealing 10 bases with Spokane: the first player in the High-A West division to reach double digits for both stolen bases and home runs. Former Rockies assistant GM of player development Zach Wilson raved about his development: “He’s driving the ball in the gaps and hit a homer against the Giants a few days ago,” Wilson said. “Behind the plate, he’s been exceptional, particularly with his blocking. He works his tail off back there and he’d be the first to admit that two years ago, he was nowhere what he looks like now.”
MacIver has also moved his way up into the Rockies’ top prospects list, where he ranks no. 29 and is one of only two catchers in the top 30.
As a reward for his success, MacIver was not only promoted to Double-A Hartford, but also named to the roster for the All-Star Futures game, playing for the National League during All-Star Weekend. MacIver got the call three days before his promotion to Hartford.
“I woke up in the morning to four missed calls from our farm director and I was like ‘oh my god, what’s going on?’” MacIver said when Purple Row caught up with him during All-Star Weekend, “I called him back and he told me the news and it was awesome. It’s a dream come true, obviously.
“I’ve watched this Futures Game since when the All-Star Game was at AT&T Park in San Francisco [in 2007] when I was young,” he continued, “I went and watched the Futures Game there when I was just a kid. So definitely a cool experience and I’m just trying to take it all in today.”
MacIver spent some time at the Rockies’ alternate training site during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, but he expressed how different the excitement was in Denver during the All-Star Break.
“It’s definitely a different experience,” he said, “especially with COVID and everything last year and just seeing the vibe in Denver, and going to the hotel; walking out of the hotel and seeing the city…beautiful. Obviously, the atmosphere at the field so far has been amazing. All the players are good guys and the coaches have been really good about giving us advice on how to stay in the moment and just had some fun today. So I’ve loved it so far and move forward to playing.”
The time he spent in the Mile High City at the alternate training site helped him prepare for his time at here during All-Star Week, especially when it comes to altitude and hydration.
“The water is a big part because you get dehydrated a little quicker in the altitude. Obviously it takes time to get used to it and we don’t really have that with one game, so we’re just drinking a bunch of water.”
In addition to the climate and altitude acclimation, Willie also forged connections with his “upperclassmen” and potential future teammates.
“The biggest thing for me at the alternate site was just learning from those older guys, the guys that are on the fringe of being in the big leagues and I think that was an experience for me that was invaluable.” However, he didn’t stay insulated when he arrived in Denver for his big weekend. It was an opportunity to forge new connections, and reintroduce himself to other minor leaguers from across the country.
“Obviously if you don’t know who to talk to you can always talk to your Rockies buddies, but we’ve kind of been introducing ourselves around and getting to know the guys because we’ve played against these guys for quite a long time,” MacIver said. “The baseball world’s a small world. Guys will know guys that I played with and you can kind of bond and talk about that. That’s that’s one of the coolest parts about games like this is getting to know the other guys who you’ve been playing against and you respect all their talents so much and it’s an honor to be in the same locker room.”
MacIver entered the All-Star Futures game late, taking over for Padres prospect Luis Campusano. He caught two scoreless frames for the National League team, and caught Mariners prospect Julio Rodríguez trying to steal third in the sixth. Unfortunately he was less successful at the plate, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. Perhaps this wasn’t the kind of results he was hoping for at the Futures Game, but MacIver was excited for the opportunity to be seen and play against other top prospects.
“You know you’re going against some of the best prospects in all of baseball,” he said. “So I think it’s a really cool opportunity to go up against those guys and prove that I’m the real deal and I’m ready to play.”
MacIver is still acclimating to the higher level of play that comes with promotion, slashing .151/.274/.396 in 16 games with the Yard Goats, but his potent bat is still filled with potential. He’s walked eight times to 17 strikeouts, has nine RBIs, and has five extra base hits with four home runs. He also made a huge splash in just his second game with the Yard Goats: a 3-for-3 day where all three of his hits were home runs for six RBIs. His three-homer game was the first in Yard Goats history.
“That’s obviously an awesome game. It was really fun for me, but Hartford has been great,” MacIver reflected. “The stadium out there is awesome; the crowd we get in Hartford is great. I can’t say enough about the facilities there either, so I’ve been, so far in my two weeks there, I’ve been loving it.”
The young man is making his mark in the Rockies’ farm system, gunning for the big league team in the future. As a team that has historically struggled in developing catchers, it’s exciting to see one making such a splash early in his career.