On Sunday morning in New Hampshire, I ventured into pitching coach Tom Signore’s office in the Fisher Cats’ clubhouse and we had a nice, long talk about some of the pitchers who are on the staff now and a couple who have been moved up to Buffalo. I was really looking for Deck McGuire (see yesterday’s piece on him), but Tom informed me that he would be coming in later that day. The coaching staff is very well aware of how much of a grind the schedule is, with very few off days (usually spent on a bus) and the players are also very active in the community, so they’ll give the players a little bit of extra time when they can.
Tom was very forthcoming about the players and what they need to do to get to the next level.
Blue Jays from Away: Tom, I’d like to ask you a little bit about last night’s starter, Deck McGuire. Now Deck went into the seventh inning last night and had a big strikeout total – 8 strikeouts. What did you see out of him that you liked and what did you see that you thought he might need to work on a little bit.
Tom Signore: It’s been an overriding theme with his career. He’ll make a lot of good pitches during the game, but you can probably pick out five instances where he leaves a ball up and he gets hurt with it and it tends to happen with runners on base. Now sometimes that can be um, perhaps his attention is divided too much with the runner and the hitter towards the runner. But stuff-wise he was very good last night. His command of his fastball was just ok, but the command of the other three pitches was good. If he can get three of the four going, he’s gonna take you deep into the game. Our goal for our starters is to get us 21 outs and he got us 20. It was a nice opportunity to get Evan Crawford a situational lefthanded at bat yesterday and he came in and got the strikeout so everything worked out good. Deck didn’t end up getting a loss out of it so that’s a positive. He can take a lot of positives out of that game, but as you know if you make mistakes up in run scoring situations, hitters are gonna get you. They love RBIs and that’s the time you’ve really gotta have your command with you.
BJfA: One thing I did notice last night was that there were times that he got lucky when he left a pitch up. There was a hard hit ball to the outfield but the outfielders were able to track it down —
TS: You know, they look like hard hit balls, but actually he did a pretty good job elevating in on the hitter so he got the ball in on the hands. I’d rather say that he actually executed the pitch that he tried to rather than he was lucky. Now, yeah, there were a couple of hard hit balls, sure, but in the course of 6 2/3 innings of work there’s going to be some hard hit balls but you know, yesterday’s outing turned on 5 pitches. That’s how small the margin for error is.
BJfA: Would you say that at this level of baseball, that’s one of the big lessons that pitchers have to learn is that the margin for error gets smaller and smaller as they rise through the ranks.
TS: Yeah, it’s like a big funnel. In rookie ball the funnel is a little bigger. In low a ball the funnel gets a little smaller, then they get to the Florida State League it even gets smaller, then they get to AA and it gets a lot smaller because now you’re dealing with a lot of prospects, probably more than at the AAA level and once you get to AAA the guys know the game very well. They’re able to slow the game down, a lot of them have big league experience or are on their way up because they have been able to slow the game down so now the funnel gets even smaller and then at the big league level the funnel is tiny — the hole is tiny in that funnel.
BJfA: Would you say that Sean Nolin who made a start for the Blue Jays this year, he may have learned just how small that funnel gets in that start?
TS: I’d say that there’s no question that in the long run, that will be one of the best things that he’ll look back on in his development plan that it helped him a lot. He’ll know what to expect when he goes back there and i expect him to go back there, I don’t know when it’ll happen but I project him as a late-rotation starter. Some people will differ with me and they have maybe a higher grade, but I think he’s gonna be a good later in the rotation starter. And he’s a big kid, big frame, can absorb a lot of innings. Very competitive, sometimes too competitive, so that’s something else that he’s learned to tone down and he’s done a great job of that. And he executes a lot of pitches. His mistakes are very few, that’s why he goes deep into games.
BJfA: I just want to get back to Deck [McGuire] a little bit. You said he has three other pitches aside from his fastball. What are they?
TS: Curveball, slider, Change. I think he threw 17 changeups last night. I’d like to see him get into the 20s with that pitch because he got quite a few, I think seven, swings and misses with it and a ground ball to second. So I’d like to see him use that pitch more but it’s tough to sit there and calculate let’s get this percentage of this pitch, let’s get this percentage of this pitch. But his slider IS his best pitch. he can throw that with his eyes closed and that’s where his best delivery is. When he starts getting in trouble, delivery-wise, he over-rotates his shoulders at the top of the delivery and now the body’s got to make up for it to get back in the direction of home plate, and what happens is, he gets around the ball, gets underneath the ball, ball stays up and usually doesn’t stay at home plate.
BJfA: Do you think that with runners on it’s more of a split in concentration.
TS: I absolutely think it’s more of a split in concentration. He’s too worried about the runner. Now all he has to do is stop the runner’s feet. Nobody’s gonna steal 3rd on him from a dead stop. If the runner’s moving his feet he can step off, we can pick, we can give a little more attention with our off infielder. If it’s a right handed hitter who tends to pull the ball our second baseman can give us a little more action. There’s a lot of things that go into it rather than him just dividing too much attention, there’s other parts that can help us with that issue.
BJfA: I just want to ask about some other guys you’ve got on the roster. We’ve talked about Sean Nolin already, but let’s go to the next guy that a lot of people are saying could be the next guy called up by the Blue Jays and that’s Marcus Stroman who has been with the Fisher Cats this year – he’s been starting all year. What do you see in his development, what do you like about him, what do you think –
TS: I like that he’s developed a very good changeup. The guys like Marcus, I don’t want to say they’re easy, but because they’re so athletic they can make changes a little bit easier and he’s got very good aptitude. The main thing with him right now is getting him to get a little plane on the baseball – a little downward plane – he’s not gonna get a lot, he’s 5’8” whatever he is – but some downward plane because he does generate it with his slider and his curveball. He’s over the ball the way we like it but for some reason when he goes fastball he gets a little quick with delivery. Again, it’s a normal thing for a kid his age – a kid, he’s a man – a man his age to not be perfect yet but I think he’ll iron that out. I hope he’s not rushed but that’s a decision at a higher pay grade than mine.
BJfA: And what do you think about Marcus Walden, Friday night’s starter?
TS: Well Marcus has been good the last three times out. I think he’s gone – his last three he’s been 7 2/3, then he threw a complete game on 90 pitches and went another 7 the other night. Marcus is a strike thrower with good stuff. His best pitch is a sinker. He very rarely uses his 4-seamer, when he does it’s just to elevate in on hitters, give their eyes a different perception. His curveball looks like a slider is thrown like a curve ball it’s just a little bit harder curve ball than most people are used to. It’s coming along – he’s always able to find the feel of it in the bullpen – hasn’t really taken it out into a game where it’s a go-to pitch where he could say “ok, I can show the hitters something different,” but it’s there and his changeup has just put him over the top. I think he profiles as a relief pitcher. He’s a very durable guy, very athletic and probably the hardest worker on the staff, quite frankly.
BJfA: Would you say that he’s a good example that strikeouts can be overrated?
TS: Yeah, because he was able to throw a complete game. That’s the only one we have this season. And 19 of his 27 outs came on four pitches or less. And they were just routine plays, there were no balls barreled up against him. It was actually, and I hate to compare performances but, it was a more dominant performance than Drabek’s no-hitter two years ago or whenever that was. He just dominated the game from the outset. He set the tone for us in that game. And does it every time out. The guy’s earned everything he’s accomplished.
BJfA: I did notice on Friday how efficient he was and how many ground balls he was getting that were just regularly hit ground balls that were fielded and played cleanly.
BJfA: Two guys I want to ask you about who aren’t with the team anymore. One is John Stilson the other is Joel Carreno. I saw Joel in spring training a little bit, but I haven’t seen him yet since he’s been promoted to Buffalo but his numbers have been outstanding in New Hampshire and actually in Buffalo as well. What’s he done this year –
TS: It’s more than physical – well the first thing he did was got himself in much better physical condition.* He would go out early and run from April 4th the day we got here to the time he was called up to Buffalo. So that was the first thing he did and the smartest thing he did was got in much better shape. Then he started using his fastball more. You know, he’s played in the big leagues. People know him as “well he’s got that slider, got that slider,” well, he almost pitched backwards here. He was freezing hitters with his fastball late in the count rather than get them out with his slider. So now he’s got better command of his fastball and still has that put-away slider. And he throws it at different speeds, he’s got very good feel. It was a nice thing to see. He was a little down coming here at the beginning of the season. He though people quit on him, but I don’t think anybody’s quit on him. He’s a guy that they can call up in an emergency right now and say, you know, we need you in the bullpen. And the great thing is he’s been there, the atmosphere isn’t gonna get to him and again, another guy that’s earned – in this game, they don’t really give ya anything, you earn it – and another guy who’s earned, I think, a chance.
BJfA: I think so too. I think there isn’t much he has left to prove in terms of getting guys out even at the big league level, he had some great success there, I think right now it’s a numbers game as things tend to work here. And what about John Stilson? What do you see out of him?
TS: I have always really liked John Stilson. I think he’s gonna be a good setup guy some day. And again, he was down with that oblique for probably six, seven weeks. It could have been more, I don’t know. He’s still searching for feel but he’ll get that and with the stuff he has, that fastball comes downhill at the hitter, he’s got a very good breaking ball, some abruptness very late, and then the changeup I’ve seen in the past, isn’t quite there yet. Once that’s there, he’ll start to put away hitters routinely.
* Note: Signore is referring to the fact that Carreno showed up at camp this year overweight. I saw him in Spring Training and he definitely looked like he put on some pounds.