In The Pros: Magee On The Right Path
Posted: October 22, 2008
For the first time in his professional pitching career, Brandon Magee was lost.
The Sheboygan native was looking at an 0-10 won-loss record halfway through his second full season in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system.
Magee’s mind was full of potential solutions, but nothing he tried could complete the equation. Should he challenge hitters, or be more perfect? Pitch to spots, or show the breaking stuff? Force batters to hit his pitches, or strike them out?
After all his attempts produced no answers, Magee turned to his pitching coach with the Double A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, former big-leaguer Dave LaRoche, for instruction and guidance.
LaRoche’s response to Magee was to figure it out on his own.
“Early in the year, he didn’t help me through it,” Magee said recently.
“He let me get through the bumps in the road. (LaRoche) gave me a hard time, and I never understood it. But all year, the things he was doing, he was trying to get me to figure myself out.”
The puzzle eventually came together for Magee. His last 10 games of the 2008 season produced a 6-2 record and 3.70 earned run average in 65-plus innings, yielding 61 hits and 23 walks (33 strikeouts).
The season-ending numbers — 7-13, 4.75 ERA and 184 hits allowed in 163 innings weren’t impressive — but Magee returned to Sheboygan confident he’s on the path to Major League Baseball.
“The only thing I’m concerning myself with now is what to do to make it to the big leagues,” said Magee, 25. “I’m right where I need to be at my age. If I take a first step back then it’s a cause for concern.”
Even with the rough start to 2008, Magee never left the rotation and wasn’t demoted. The season was a learning curve for Magee, who continues to adjust from being a power thrower who relied heavily on the strikeout (and in the process racked up high pitch counts) to someone who pitches to contact and accumulates innings.
“If you don’t pitch to the seventh inning, you don’t get a lot of wins,” Magee said. “If you turn it over to the bullpen in the fifth inning, things happen that are out of your control.”
LaRoche didn’t completely leave it all up to Magee to figure out. As a 14-year major leaguer, the lefty has plenty of nuggets to relay to his students. One of his first lessons for Magee was to get back to the basics.
“I wanted to get early outs, and not have deep counts; that’s hard for me comprehend,” Magee said. “He helped me understand the things I’m capable of doing, not people I needed to be like or be like some superstar pitcher. There are only a handful of big-time guys. I always thought I had to put up big numbers. That’s what changed in my game. I just tried to do things I was capable of.”
The struggles Magee experienced were nothing new according to LaRoche, the father of two current major leaguers, Pittsburgh Pirates infielders Adam and Andy LaRoche.
Dave LaRoche said it’s a necessary step for young pitchers to take.
“It’s absolutely important, and the kids need to go through it,” LaRoche said. “You just hope they go through it in the minors or in college. You have to learn to deal with hitters and pitching through slumps. The goal is to keep the slumps shorter.”
After throwing a career-high 163 innings in 2008, Magee is resting until spring training, when he returns to Florida for camp. He is unsure of the Blue Jays’ plans for 2009. He could spend some more time in New Hampshire for seasoning or make the move to Triple A Las Vegas, where he would be reunited with LaRoche, who was promoted at the end of the season.
With a year at Double A already under his belt, the call to the majors could come anytime for Magee.
LaRoche said that call-ups to the majors for spot starters often depend on who is available at either level on short notice, and Double A pitchers have been called up for full-time duty if they show they are ready.
LaRoche said a key for Magee is to avoid the slow starts of the past two years to get a shot at the majors soon.
“He’s a great kid, and he works hard,” LaRoche said. “He’s not going to give in to hitters, and his command overall is not a giant issue. From what I saw in the second half, there are a lot of things to like.”
Reach Dave Lubach at email@example.com
The Sheboygan A's are members of the Wisconsin State League and Northeastern Wisconsin Baseball League. The A's have helped develop more than 43 players that have reached professional baseball, including 2002 World Series Champion Jarrod Washburn (Anaheim Angels). All Sheboygan A's home games are played at Wildwood Baseball Park in Sheboygan. Connect with the A's on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.