Deck McGuire talks about why he’s happy to leave 2012 behind.
SCOTTSDALE, Az. — There’s something calming about being in the desert. The sky is clearer. The noise from a widespread city disappears into the rugged landscape that is dotted with cactus and brush within its limits.
“I’m relaxed,” Deck McGuire says, sitting in the bullpen at Salt River Fields, a baseball sanctuary and the jewel of Arizona Fall League action.
The Toronto Blue Jays first round pick in 2010 has just emerged from the home clubhouse of the Salt River Rafters with his pant legs rolled up.
“Going into this past season, it was a little bit overwhelming,” the right-hander says, watching the visiting Phoenix Desert Dogs take their batting practice in the morning heat.
“I started my first year in pro ball in 2011 and there were really no expectations. It was just ‘Hey, go pitch. See how you do, and however you do is going to dictate where you end up,’” he said.
“I did that, and coming into 2012, I let myself get caught up in the hype. It’s never a good thing to do.”
A far cry from the dominance that made him the 11th overall pick out of Georgia Tech, the 23-year-old battled to keep his head above the water in his 2012 campaign with Double-A New Hampshire. It was a season-long battle that tested him with every pitch he threw.
“It was the first time that there was no real consistency to my season,” says McGuire.
He watched his ERA soar to 5.88 with the Fisher Cats in 28 starts. By the end of the season, he posted a 5-15 record, allowing 162 hits, walking 62 and striking out 97. In trying to figure out what was going wrong, nothing went right.
“There is no one thing. Every start was a new challenge. Sometimes every fastball I threw was right down the middle, sometimes every fastball I threw was never over the plate. Sometimes the curveball didn’t work, sometimes it bounced every time,” he says, able to be candid about his misfortune.
“It was a tough year. It was really not fun.”
With the Rafters, McGuire is listening, absorbing, and taking everything he can away from his time in this Major League finishing school.
“I have confidence again …coming out here was a chance for a fresh start,” he says.
“Those numbers don’t look so great in the program from 2012, but it’s over now.”
Here in Arizona, he’s holding lefties to a .143 average with seven strikeouts, but righties fare better, hitting .250.
“I get a chance to move on and experience a new role coming out of the bullpen … (fall league) is a melting pot of sorts,” the Virginia-native says.
His ERA as a reliever was 2.45 headed into Friday night, when he had a chance to start a game for the first time as a Rafter.
“It’s been a cool experience to get a chance to hear so many different viewpoints other than the guys you see every day for 142 games.”
McGuire’s name was often heard in the same breath as Drew Hutchison and Chad Jenkins. The trio of pitching was to be the near future of the major league team, and the hype was a lot to live up to coming out of spring training with the big club.
“I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect,” McGuire says. “When things started to go bad, the normal instinct is to put more pressure on yourself to get better.”
Hutchison joined the Blue Jays starting rotation in late April and experienced success, going 5-3 with a 4.60 ERA before landing on the disabled list in June. He’d later join the corps of Tommy John recipients.
Maybe even closer to home for McGuire, was Jenkins turning a similarly dismal season with the Fisher Cats into an early August call-up to the Toronto bullpen. The stint would eventually see McGuire’s two-year teammate get his first big-league win, starting a game on Oct. 2, 2012.
“It was awesome because it was a light at the end of the tunnel. Everybody says that the major leagues are everybody’s end goal, but sometimes in the minor leagues, you put that chance on a pedestal,” McGuire says.
“You look at it as these are the best players in the world, and you wonder if you match up.”
“When you have guys that you’ve actually played with go up there and succeed at that level, it makes it seem more attainable on a day-to-day basis.”
Being the lone man standing in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats dream rotation has given McGuire the space to come into his own. He’s reshaped his outlook, and left the hype in the past.
“This year, it’s a completely different attitude I have going into it,” he says, looking forward to the spring where the 2013 program is his to write.
“I got a chance at 23-years old to struggle in double-A with a lot of time left to build for the future.”