The Oakland Athletics announced that they have purchased right-hander Deck McGuire from the Toronto Blue Jays today. He has been assigned to Triple-A Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League.
McGuire is one of the bigger prospect disappointments of recent years. He was the ace of the Georgia Tech pitching staff from 2008 through 2010, going 28-7, 3.28 over that period, making 45 starts and posting a 306/106 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with 250 hits allowed. He was considered one of the "safest" talents available in the 2010 draft: he threw four quality pitches for strikes, thrived against top competition in college, and was very polished. Drafted 11th overall, he signed for $2,000,000 and was expected to be ready for the Jays rotation within two years.
That's not what happened.
He started off well, posting a 2.75 ERA with a 102/38 K/BB in 105 innings for High-A Dunedin to open 2011. Promoted to Double-A, he made four more starts and held his own with a 4.35 ERA but a solid 22/7 K/BB in 21 innings. He hurt his back late that summer and missed all of August.
He was never the same after the injury. Returned to New Hampshire for 2012, he went 5-15, 5.88 with a 97/62 K/BB in 144 innings and 162 hits allowed. He gave up 22 homers. Although his fastball velocity was the same as it was before (88-92), his ability to locate the fastball was compromised, his secondary pitches (slider, curve, changeup) all went backwards, and he was hammered more often than not.
McGuire was a little better in 2013, posting an improved 143/59 K/BB in 157 innings with 148 hits allowed, but his ERA was still ugly at 4.88. The FIP wasn't as bad at 3.70 and in general he looked a little more like his old self, but his stock remained down with scouts. McGuire performed well for New Hampshire this spring (2.98 ERA, 47/17 K/BB in 60 innings) but ran into more problems after moving up to Triple-A Buffalo (5.56 in 10 starts, 38/23 in 55 innings, 12 homers).
Can he turn things around? Stranger things have happened. Although the 2011 back injury was not supposed to be a big deal, it sticks out like a sore thumb in his record: he was effective before the injury and ineffective afterward. It could be a coincidence I suppose, but it does seem strange. Even when he was pitching well in college and the lower minors, McGuire relied on location and command to succeed. A small, apparently inconsequential injury or tiny mechanical tweak can have outsized effects for a pitcher with a thin margin for error.
It seems unlikely at this point that McGuire will live up to his early promise, but I like this move. It is clear that he needs a change of scenery and wasn't going to do much in the Toronto system, so a fresh start with a new organization is a good plan for everyone involved. The Jays get a little money out of it, McGuire gets to clear his head and start over, and Oakland picks up an interesting retread project.
Personally, I would think about converting him to the bullpen. It could kick his stuff up a notch.