The latest C’s Chat is with 2019 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Andy McGuire.
The 6-foot-0 Moroccan-born righthander is in his second season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization after he was taken in the 28th round out of the University of Texas where he was a pitcher, outfielder and third baseman with the Longhorns.
A highly-recruited shortstop from James Madison High from Vienna, Virginia, McGuire joined the Longhorns in 2014 after turning down a chance to go pro with the Colorado Rockies who took him in the 36th round of the 2013 draft.
“I was fairly highly touted out of high school so they did throw some good money my direction and sort of say you know, ‘What are you thinking? Here’s where we sort of want to pick you.’
I thought about it for a little bit. It was pretty easy for me to stick with my commitment to Texas just being that I figured, you know, that’s where I felt like I had to be. I had that gut feeling that I picked this place for a reason and bypassing it is something that I wouldn’t want to regret down the road.”
Tough Texas Two-Step
McGuire struggled at the plate in his freshman season by hitting just .113 in 71 games. Compounding his struggles were a serious knee injury and the decision from the Texas coaching staff to move him to the mound.
Disillusioned with a mop-up role in his sophomore season with the Longhorns that saw him go 1-0 with a 5.25 earned run average, McGuire decided to transfer to the University of South Carolina-Aitken but it was only for a short spell as he went back to Austin to attend classes. He didn’t get back on the diamond until 2018 with the Longhorns under their new coaching staff.
The 2018 season was one to remember for McGuire as he became the Longhorns closer, putting up an ERA of 1.93 with seven saves and an OPS of .862 in 39 at-bats. Those efforts helped Texas reach the College World Series.
“I had no idea that was going to be my role, honestly. We had a guy that was pre-season All American closer and he struggled early and I sort of got the opportunity and did well and kind of took off with it. For me, it was just a fact of like the adrenaline and sort of like understanding that you have to go after guys and you don’t really have a lot of room to mess around. That sort of fits my pitching style mechanically and tempo-wise so I kind of fell in love with it and had a good time and luckily had success.”
The 2018 season for McGuire was a dream come true.
“2018 was probably the most all-around fun year of my entire life and baseball career. Being able to come back and not only make the team but to be able to contribute to the success that I and our team had in Omaha, I mean, it was like a script that you can’t even make up, you know.
It was something that I was able to sort of like reflect on after the season. Obviously getting the opportunity to play professional baseball after that. I got to graduate from the school of my dreams, got a degree and then be able to continue the baseball career too so, pretty awesome.”
McGuire credits the new coaching staff for their belief in him as a hurler.
“Our pitching coach—which was our head coach at Texas, David Pierce—and then our assistant Phil Haig were very open with (me), ‘Hey, do you think you can do this? We think you’re athletic enough to do this. Can you do this?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do that for sure!’ “
McGuire got to continue his career when the Jays drafted him. He says he was at the home of his Longhorns teammate and Detroit Tigers draft pick Kody Clemens when word came that Toronto took him.
“It’s pretty funny actually. I was at my buddy’s condo where I was staying at the end of the season last year because my lease had run out. There was like three or four of us living at this condo and (Kody Clemens) had been drafted in the third round and he was out of the place wherever we were hanging out mid-day.
We had practice that day and one of my other buddies who was there was packing up his stuff. His mom was in town to bring it to back to Houston. I was hanging out, watching TV or something.
I had the draft up and I saw my name pop up on the live tracker. I kind of just like stared at it and, ‘Oh my god, I just got drafted. I guess that this is actually real right now.’ And then I heard (the Blue Jays) say my name and I sort of ran out of grabbed my buddy and showed them. We had a cool little moment and I got a couple of phone calls and that was pretty awesome.
Having been drafted out of high school, knowing that I was going to school, it was a lot different of an experience, especially given the path that I took to get my way back on the field but what a great day.”
The signing scout for McGuire was Brian Johnston. One person McGuire heard from right away was 2017 Vancouver Canadians first baseman and former Longhorns teammate Kacy Clemens.
“He was actually a guy that called me right after I got picked. He was in Dunedin at the time. He’s actually one of my best friends so obviously when I found out I was coming here (to Vancouver) a few weeks ago, I reached out to him and he sort of told me like ‘It’s awesome. You’re going to love the fans. Really cool place to play. Probably one of the best cities you’re going to get to play in so enjoy your time there. Go out and see the city and don’t get too overboard with (things). You got a job to do but definitely enjoy your time there.’ He gave me a few restaurant recommendations, places to go, pretty sweet.”
There was one thing that McGuire liked about being taken by the Blue Jays.
“There were probably like five or six teams that were interested in me. The Blue Jays were actually the only team that was interested in me as a two-way player. Going into the last day (of the draft), I had sort of an idea that they were going to—if they had the shot—pick me in the later rounds and it ended up happening in Round 28 and I couldn’t be happier with being drafted by the Blue Jays so it was pretty sweet.”
The first stop of McGuire’s pro career was in Bluefield.
My pro debut was actually as a hitter and then I think the next night I pitched and I actually gave up a home run to the second batter I faced which was new to me because I hadn’t given up a home run in college. It was pretty much like a (snaps fingers) humbling moment right off the bat, unintended.”
McGuire singled, walked twice and scored twice in his pro debut against Burlington July 2 before pitching the next day. He finished with a .431 on-base percentage in 40 at-bats and had a 3.09 ERA with 22 strikeouts and eight walks over 23 innings.
It was a balancing act going between the mound and the batter’s box in 2018.
“It’s a little bit more different being a reliever because given whether I had pitched that day before or whatnot, I had to be ready to throw. That was pretty much my priority going in. They told me, ‘Your priority is going to be as a pitcher. We’re going to try to get you X number of at-bats.’
I was able to fill in at different positions when needed so I only got about 40 at-bats or so, which isn’t a lot but it’s a short season. I sort of developed a role, as a back-end of the bullpen guy so I was able to sort of like continue the sort of aggressiveness and the mindset that I had coming out of college being a late-game guy so it was good for me. It was a good transition.”
Getting to play for Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg was something McGuire enjoyed.
“I can’t think of a better first-year manager than Dennis with how he goes about every single day. He brings a ton of energy and he makes you feel like—even with the monotony with sort of an everyday schedule—he sort of makes it feel like that day is the most important day of your life and you’re pretty fired up to play.
You never know what’s going to happen. You might show up in the locker room with like a tiger on his shirt. The guy has got so many tricks up his sleeve but it’s pretty awesome playing for him. Bluefield is not the most exciting place in the world but it’s kind of a blessing in disguise because you sort of have to focus on baseball. There’s not a lot of distractions. It’s a great first place to play, that’s for sure.”
Describing McGuire’s pitching delivery is a challenge. It almost as if he appears to knee himself in the upper body before throwing the pitch. His reason for the unorthodox method is to make hitters feel uncomfortable at the dish.
“I created a delivery based on being a hitter. I sort of thought like, ‘What’s the last thing that I would want to face?’ Tempo-wise, it’s hard to get your timing hiding the ball. The ball is going to move a little bit. I pretty much just figured my natural arm slot’s a little bit lower being an infielder growing up so at school, my pitching coach showed me a video of a guy at TCU (Texas Christian University) and asked me if I could do that. It was a little bit different. I sort of developed, here and there, a faster tempo.
I don’t know. It looks a lot weirder when I watch a replay or whatever than it feels. Right now I’m kind of just used to it but yeah, a pretty quick tempo and not a lot of time to really think, just go.”
McGuire is still getting used to life on the mound.
“I never really pitched until last year at school. I pitched in high school a little bit but everyone pitches in high school. Just threw fastballs and hoped to get guys out. In my sophomore year in college, I threw 10 innings maybe because I wasn’t in the lineup and I wanted to somehow contribute.
I didn’t have great stuff, just a normal, average righthanded pitcher. I sort of like understood that I had to make some sort of an adjustment. How am I going to get guys out? What can I offer or contribute to the team?
Right now, McGuire uses three pitches to combat opposing hitters.
“I throw a one-seam sinker, slider, changeup. The changeup is a relatively new pitch that they wanted me to work on in the off-season and I did a lot of work on that. I’ve been mixing it in pretty well, I think. Always room to improve but it’s nice to be able to throw that to left-handed hitters and maybe show it to a righty.”
McGuire elaborated on using a one-seamer.
“Not being a pitcher my whole life, I had no idea that that was even a pitch. I know the majority of the pitches, right? You got your fastball, two-seam, four-seam and so I thought how I was going to get guys out moving the baseball was going to be a two-seam.
Phil Haig at Texas said, ‘Have you ever heard of a one-seam?’ There’s some big leaguers that throw one-seam fastballs and he showed me kind of how to grip it and I just messed around with a two-seam and one-seam and just for whatever reason, it just felt more comfortable and that’s what I got.
I messed around with it, I messed around with it. I got into a routine to where we felt pretty normal. They just trusted me and it was good. They taught me a new pitch and it went from there.”
Bluefield vs. Vancouver
Now in Vancouver, the 24 year-old McGuire says he enjoys getting to pitch at Nat Bailey Stadium.
“It’s pretty cool. Obviously in Bluefield last year, there weren’t a lot of fans at our games at home so you have to kind of like force yourself to get into the moment. But here, you got crazy fans. They live and die for this baseball team and that’s pretty awesome.
We appreciate it and as a pitcher, you love the big moment and going out there and having people yelling and chanting or striking a guy out or getting a big out and the crowd’s going wild so it’s pretty awesome.”
C’s fans have seen McGuire on the mound but whether they will see him in the batter’s box remains up in the air.
“At this point, it’s not really my call. I’m just focusing right now on getting better everyday as a pitcher and whatever happens from there, I’ll be ready for it.”
Thanks a million to Andy McGuire for this edition of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @AMcGuire_1. Special thanks to C’s Media Relations Assistant Jordy Cunningham for arranging the conversation.