Feb. 10, 2010

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Yellow Jackets Playing with a Full Deck

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


Deck McGuire spent much of the 2009 season establishing himself as one of college baseball’s top pitchers. His reward was an invite to try out for Team USA; his fallback was pitching for Orleans in the Cape.


Shortly after being named the ACC’s Pitcher of the Year, a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and a finalist for the National Pitcher of the Year, the Georgia Tech right-hander sought advice from Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall about doing something few star college baseball players would consider.


“He asked, ‘What would you think if I don’t pitch this summer?’” Hall said.


McGuire, a 6-6, 218-pound junior from Richmond, Va., was in the midst of Team USA trials. He was beginning to tire, physically and mentally. Despite having an incredible opportunity with either Team USA or in the Cape, deep down, he knew he needed a break.


“I talked to a lot of people and asked for a lot of opinions,” McGuire said. “They all told me that I had done a pretty good job of establishing my name. It was more beneficial to take some time off.”


So McGuire chose the road less traveled.


He packed his gear and spent the summer in Atlanta, close to his Georgia Tech home but far from the pitcher’s mound.


Hall had told him that if he pitched in the summer, he likely wouldn’t pitch in the fall. McGuire decided to rest his arm so that he could be with the Yellow Jackets when practice started in the fall.


“It was nice to relax for once,” said McGuire, a polite, yes-sir kind of guy whose first name is William but always has been known by his mother’s maiden name.


“I lifted, I ran. I kicked back and relaxed. You don’t get much time to do that when you play a college sport.”


The Yellow Jackets, who finished 38-19-1 after being surprised by Southern Miss in the Atlanta Regional final last season, are banking on a rested and healthy McGuire to again lead a rotation that returns junior Brandon Crumpton (4-3, 4.76 ERA) and reliever-turned-starter Mark Pope (5-1, 8 saves, 6.00 ERA).


McGuire, a former high school quarterback and the 2007 Virginia State Baseball Player of the Year, went 11-2 with an ERA of 3.50 and 118 strikeouts in 100.1 innings and has compiled a 19-3 career mark. He boasts a fastball that consistently is in the low-90s and reaches the mid-90s.


“The biggest thing I’ve always liked about Deck is how he competes on the mound,” said a major league scout who has tracked McGuire in high school and college. “He’s not afraid to challenge hitters. That’s usually what the best guys do. He’s not afraid to pitch off his fastball.”


When he arrived at Tech, Hall said McGuire’s fastball was in the mid-to-upper 80s. He impressed that fall with his ability to throw strikes, and Hall decided to use him as a mid-week starter.


“By the end of the year, he was one of our best pitchers,” Hall said, adding that McGuire could end up as one of Georgia Tech’s best pitchers ever.


McGuire finished his freshman year 8-1 with a 3.46 ERA. And he went to work.


“I’ve lost 20 pounds and between 10 and 12 percent body fat,” he said. “I’m in way better shape. My arm sped up, just from adding more muscle…My physical conditioning is definitely the biggest difference.”


Plenty of people have noticed.


Opposing hitters hit just .232 off him a year ago. In a preseason CollegeBaseballInsider.com survey of ACC coaches, McGuire was tabbed the conference’s top pitcher. He’s a consensus preseason All-American. And he’s projected by most experts to be taken in the first round of the 2010 Major League Draft.


“His command and his confidence have really improved a lot,” said the major league scout. “He has improved immensely. His freshman year, they pitched him in the mid-week and brought him along. They didn’t throw him into the fire. Last year, he had confidence and a lot of success.”


Added Hall, who has guided Georgia Tech to an average of 43.5 wins a year, 13 NCAA tourney appearances and three College World Series berths in his 15 years: “He’s pitched in one of the best leagues in the country. If you can have success in our league, you can have success anywhere.”


(photos courtesy of Georgia Tech Media Relations Office)