NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — A few days ago Deck McGuire received a text message from his younger brother Wes telling him that the New Hampshire Fisher Cats were soon coming to their hometown of Richmond, Va., to face the Flying Squirrels.
“He’s one of my best friends,” says McGuire. “I had to let him know there was a pretty good chance I’m going to be on that trip.”
So that’s why the 22-year-old’s first phone call upon learning of his promotion from single-A Dunedin to the double-A New Hampshire was to 18-year-old Wes, confirming his homecoming for the Aug. 2-4 series.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ first-round pick in 2010 joined the Fisher Cats on Monday, wearing No. 34, and will make his debut Wednesday in the nightcap of a doubleheader with the New Britain Rock Cats.
But McGuire’s already checked the calendar, too, and he thinks one of his future outings lands during the series in Virginia.
“That will be pretty cool,” he said. “Actually, it will be a pretty good test, a chance to really control the adrenaline a little bit and go out and have some fun.”
McGuire’s been having plenty of that in his first pro season, going 7-4 with a 2.75 earned-run average in 19 games, 18 starts, with Dunedin. Impressively, he struck out 102 in 104.2 innings, allowing 89 hits and 38 walks.
His major area of progress so far?
“The one thing I’ve been getting better at is attacking with my fastball down in the zone,” he said. “The Blue Jays, that’s their big thing, pounding down in the zone and it’s the one thing that’s gotten me into trouble when I’ve gotten in trouble this year, leaving some fastballs up and you pay for your mistakes.”
Dunedin manager Clayton McCullough and pitching coach Darold Knowles stressed that in their work with McGuire and it will be up to Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano and pitching coach Pete Walker to continue driving him to those and other points.
Both are familiar with McGuire from instructional league and spring training, but the real work starts now.
“I haven’t seen him in competitive games yet, so I’m anxious to see him,” said Walker. “He’s guy with a good overhand curveball, a good slider, and a fastball that he locates very well. His numbers in A-ball were very good and we hope that continues here.”
Right-hander Chad Beck — 7-4 with a 3.69 ERA in 22 games, 14 starts — was promoted to triple-A Las Vegas to make room for McGuire, who is also working to develop a changeup that is good some days, bad on others.
“If Deck can do half of what Chad was doing he’ll have great success up here,” said Fasano. “He’s fairly polished. He’s just in that process of commanding all his pitches and sequencing all his pitches and trying to see how it plays against the better competition.”
McGuire says the Blue Jays want him to throw in the neighbourhood of 150 innings this year, and figures he’s on track for that with about eight starts remaining.
His goals for the season were to adjust to pitching in a five-day rotation and to finish things out feeling strong physically so he can enter next spring with some momentum. Check on all that, too.
A month-plus in double-A to close out 2011 will offer him a late measuring stick.
“I’m trying to stay the same,” said McGuire. “It’s a higher level, the guys are going to be better, but I have to go out and pitch to my strengths and see how it goes. I’m excited about the opportunity, it’s a great league, I get to watch Zach Stewart, Joel Carreno, and Henderson Alvarez go out and handle their business, and I’m going to try and learn from them as much as I can and try to make myself better.”