TORONTO – On the surface, Georgia Tech pitcher Deck McGuire would seem to be precisely the type of safe, conservative draft pick that marked the Toronto Blue Jays under former general manager J.P. Ricciardi.
The six-foot-six right-hander is often described as an innings-eating, mid-rotation starter — hardly the type of high-ceiling, elite player new GM Alex Anthopoulos and amateur scouting director Andrew Tinnish talked about pursuing with their picks in baseball’s annual talent restocking.
But with the Blue Jays aggressively expanding their scouting department over the winter and sending 12 members of the organization out to watch McGuire pitch in recent months, it’s reasonable to assume they didn’t really play it safe with the 11th overall selection Monday.
After all, they had multiple looks at everyone available in the first round, and clearly they felt McGuire was their best chance at getting a top-level player.
“I definitely believe Deck has upside,” Tinnish said on a conference call with reporters. “Just because a guy is in college and 21 years old doesn’t mean that he’s a finished product.”
McGuire, the first of four pitchers chosen by the Blue Jays on the draft’s opening day, features a fastball that tops out at 94 m.p.h., but the key pitch for him is a hard slider that ranges from 83-87. He also has a quality changeup and a complementary curveball he can throw for strikes.
One scout suggested Boston Red Sox righty John Lackey as a comparable for McGuire.
The native of Richmond, Va., is the second straight college pitcher selected in the first round by the Blue Jays, following right-hander Chad Jenkins, 20th overall last year. McGuire has excellent command and the potential to shoot through the system quickly.
“In between the lines he’s an ultra competitor, he’s a bulldog,” said Tinnish. “We think he’s a durable guy who’s going to be able to log a lot of quality innings for us down the road. …
“This is a big physical, right-handed starter, he’s had a lot of experience in a big conference, the ACC, so he’s been pretty battle tested.”
The Blue Jays also picked 34th, 38th and 41st on the first day of the draft and there was some hope in the Canadian baseball community that Langley, B.C., catcher Kellin Deglan might still be in play by then.
The Texas Rangers scooped up the 18-year-old with the 22nd pick and acquired what one scout called “a future poster boy.” Deglan, a national junior team member, is a left-handed batter who should hit for both average and power and be an above-average defender.
Right-hander Jameson Taillon, who was born and raised in the U.S. to Canadian parents and has dual citizenship, went second overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
They become the eighth and ninth Canadians selected in the first round of the baseball draft, and the first since the Milwaukee Brewers chose infielder Brett Lawrie of Langley 16th in 2008.
The Blue Jays used the 34th pick, compensation for shortstop Marco Scutaro’s departure to the Boston Red Sox, to select high school right-hander Aaron Sanchez. The 6-4 17-year-old has hit 93 with his fastball but his size and arm strength are his key assets right now.
At 38, a compensation selection for failing to sign left-hander James Paxton of Ladner, B.C., last season, the Blue Jays opted for another high school right-hander, Noah Syndergaard. The 17-year-old is six-foot-five, 200 pounds.
Their final pick of the day at 41, compensation for catcher Rod Barajas’s signing with the New York Mets, was used on college right-hander Asher Wojciechowski. The 21-year-old is 6-4, 235 pounds.
All three are the type of physical specimens the Blue Jays now value and their development will put Anthopoulos’s scouting expansion to the test. Tinnish said the vast amounts of information at the team’s disposal helped on the first of three days of drafting.
“The advantage that we had this year with all the extra bodies and all the extra looks, just having that extra information, there’s almost a little bit more peace of mind when you need to make a decision like this,” said Tinnish. “When you see a player more often, you get common looks, you get a lot of looks from various people on your staff, I think there’s more conviction, you have a stronger feeling, one way or the other.”
Paxton, back in the draft after turning down seven figures from the Blue Jays last year as the 37th pick, slipped out of the top 50 and will have to wait for the draft to resume Tuesday before finding out where he’s headed.