Players taken in the late rounds of the First Year Player Draft generally fall into three categories: 1.) a late round flyer on a high-priced high school talent all but certain to go to college, 2.) a player selected and signed as organizational depth, or 3.) a player who has some recent injury concerns which resulted in a freefall in the draft.
The latter applies to High-A Kinston right-handed pitcher Mike McGuire.
McGuire was originally drafted in 2007 by the Cincinnati Reds in the 46th round, but he chose not to sign and went back to school at the University of Delaware for his senior season. His final year at Delaware turned out to be a disaster as he struggled with injuries and his performance suffered as a result to where he finished the year 6-5 with an 8.22 ERA in 15 games (76.2 IP, 108 H, 46 BB, 71 K). Even after his rough season, he ended up being taken in the 43rd round of the 2008 Draft by the Indians, and after signing he made his professional debut with the Indians short-season Single-A affiliate in Mahoning Valley going 3-5 with a 4.05 ERA (40.0 IP, 36 H, 16 BB, 47 K).
One may wonder how on Earth he was ever drafted with the numbers he had in 2008 at Delaware, but when you consider his size at 6'7" 235 pounds, his low 90s fastball velocity, and a shoulder injury which greatly affected those numbers, you can see why there was a lot to like about McGuire coming out of the draft. Bottom line, being taken in the late rounds it allowed the Indians an opportunity to take a gamble on him with little risk.
Much to McGuire's surprise he ended up with the Indians, a team that prior to draft day he never had any contact with.
"When I was playing all through high school and college the Indians never crossed my mind," said McGuire in a recent interview. "I never met Bob Mayer - the East Coast Indians Scout - and had never seen him before and never even knew his name. I had six or seven teams I thought I was going to be drafted by, so just to get a call from him and the Indians was a [surprise and] good feeling."
It goes without saying that when teams read a scouting report on a pitcher and see that he has had two recent shoulder surgeries, some red flags immediately go up. No matter how talented or how many raw tools the player may have the team will be hard-pressed to draft that player until those later rounds in the draft where the gamble is greatly reduced.
"My past medical history where I had two shoulder surgeries definitely hurt my draft stock," said McGuire. "In high school I was a pretty good prospect as a sophomore. At 17 years old I was throwing 90 MPH and was 6'6", but unfortunately my junior year my second game I needed shoulder surgery and it hurt [my draft standing] a little bit. Luckily Delaware stuck with me, so I got a chance to play there. Unfortunately, I had another shoulder surgery while I was at Delaware. Thank God for Bob Mayer as he stuck with me and believed I could still pitch."
McGuire grew up in the Philadelphia area, and had countless offers from other schools to play baseball for them, but when he had the first shoulder injury in high school he got a cold dose of reality as almost all of those offers disappeared.
"Before my surgery in high school I could pretty much pick wherever I wanted to go," said McGuire. "It went from abut a 160 schools down to three. West Virginia and Clemson were the other schools. I thought Delaware was a good choice and they offered a lot, plus they were pretty close to home."
Young players always have a feeling of invincibility, but an injury or two always has a way of bringing a player back down to Earth. When you are young you feel like you can overcome anything, but the older a player gets the more they understand how a serious injury can derail a career. Making their way through the injury minefield is one of the great unknowns in baseball and is something that is almost impossible to control or avoid. Many promising careers have ended abruptly because of an injury.
"The first surgery I was young and didn't think about it much, but the second one the only thing that crossed my mind was whether I was ever going to pitch again," said McGuire. "Was I ever going to get on the mound and throw a baseball again. I was only 19 years old at the time, 20 when I had the second surgery. No matter if I played professionally or not, I just wanted to get out there and throw again. I hooked up with the right doctors and physical therapists and here I am now. For me to get back to the level I was at in college before my surgery I am very blessed."
McGuire now is 100% healthy and has really been on a pretty good roll this year now that his velocity has returned to almost pre-injury levels to where it is sitting at 90-93 MPH and sometimes touching 94 MPH. He feels as strong as he ever has, and has had no pain since the last surgery. He started the season at Low-A Lake County and went 5-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 20 appearances out of the bullpen (45.1 IP, 35 H, 22 BB, 42 K), and earned a callup to High-A Kinston a few weeks ago where he has been inserted into the starting rotation and is 0-1 with a 7.84 ERA in three starts (10.1 IP, 13 H, 7 BB, 5 K).
He actually got off to a slow start this past April in Lake County where in seven games he was 1-2 with a 5.68 ERA (12.2 IP, 14 H, 5 BB, 8 K), but turned it on in May and June going 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 13 games (32.2 IP, 21 H, 17 BB, 34 K). He has struggled in the early going at Kinston, but some of this is from the adjustment of being a starter again.
"In April I had a very slow start, so I made it a goal for myself to start the season fresh in May and try to get better everyday," said McGuire. "So far since May 1st I feel that I have gotten better and just keep getting better. Overall I think I have done well this year."
McGuire has only been playing professionally since June of last year, but like many of his other draft brethren he is starting to settle into the daily routine of a professional baseball player. He got his feet wet in Mahoning Valley last year and used that to help prepare for this season. Also, now that he knows what to expect he can concentrate on also making some adjustments.
"Last year was a big adjustment playing everyday," said McGuire. "Even playing in college it is a whole different kind of ballgame. I just got my feet wet last year, and this year I feel comfortable where I am at. I just need to be more consistent with my fastball and be able to locate it at anytime during the count. That has probably been the biggest adjustment for me in addition to getting better at working ahead of hitters and making quality pitches. Also being able to pound the lower half of the strike zone and getting that downward angle to get a lot of ground balls. That's why I think I have improved throughout the season so far."
McGuire's doesn't have the traditional three-pitch mix to be a starter long-term, but the Indians are likely using him on a temporary basis in the Kinston rotation while they wait for players to return from injury or other pitchers in Lake County or Mahoning Valley earn a callup. He really only throws two pitches, his fastball and curveball, and the development of his curveball will be a key for him going forward in how far he can advance in the system.
"I try to throw a hard curveball and it has been a good strikeout pitch so far," said McGuire. "I am continuing to get a better feel for it. I have learned that you really want to have two quality pitches that you can throw for strikes at any time."
As we move deeper into the second half of the season, McGuire's main goal these last eight weeks of the season is to stay healthy and finish strong.
"I am just concentrating on making it through a 140 games healthy and working hard and staying with the program," said McGuire. "Just keep getting better as a pitcher learning how to pitch and staying focused and I think things will turn out for the better."
Considering where he was at this time last year coming back from another shoulder surgery, things definitely have turned around for the better.