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Pittsburgh Pirates: Down on the Farm, Minor league spotlight-Quinn Priester

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An in-depth look at last year’s first round pick and the number four prospect in the Pirates organization.

Baseball: 2018 Perfect Game All-American Classic
Pirates prospect Quinn Priester
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Quinn Priester with the 18th overall selection in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft. Priester was ranked as the seventh-best player in the draft and the third-best right-handed pitcher available.

A 6’3” and 205-pound pitcher out of Cary-Grove High School in Cary, Illinois, Priester was a three-sport athlete who played baseball, basketball, and football. He was an integral part of the football team who won the state championship, utilizing his height and skills to serve as the team’s primary red zone and vertical threat at the wide receiver position.

His skills at football were good enough to garner him an offer from Northwestern University to play both football and baseball for the Wildcats. Before being drafted by and signing with the Pirates, Priester had committed to play baseball at Texas Christian University.

Priester began to gain hype as a baseball prospect after earning the start in the 2018 Under Armour All-America Game featuring the nation’s best baseball players. The game was played at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

He was named as the 2019 Gatorade player of the year in the state of Illinois and was rated as the top prep pitcher in the 2019 draft. After being selected in the first round by the Pirates, Priester would agree to forgo college and sign with Pittsburgh for $3.4 million.

Priester has the makeup that scouts look for in elite pitching talent. He is a fierce competitor, extremely self-motivated, analytical, and self-aware. Also, he represents a player who is bursting at the seems with leadership qualities, who has high character and has participated in a great deal of community work off the field for a player who was only 18-years-old when he was drafted.

Priester features an excellent arsenal with a four-seam fastball that reaches 97 miles per hour, a two-seam mid-90’s fastball with excellent movement, and has recently added a changeup that sits at 84-87 miles per hour, providing a pitch that keeps batters off guard.

While these three pitches are all excellent, Priester’s best pitch is a devastating knee-buckling curveball that he throws between 76-82 miles per hour. He had arguably the best curveball in the entire 2019 draft, despite being one of the youngest pitchers in the draft.

Priester does an excellent job of mixing up all of the pitches in his arsenal and is already showing a strong understanding of how to harness all of the pitches at his disposal to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

Perhaps the most incredible fact about Priester’s progression is that he has not had a pitching coach before pitching in the minor leagues for the Pirates last season. Instead, he utilized YouTube to search for slow-motion videos of professional pitchers who were successful on the mound.

Priester would analyze hours of pitching videos to find successful pitching mechanics that he could mimic in-game situations to make him more successful. The idea of a pitcher of his age being self-taught through watching videos of other pitchers is a good indication of his analytical skills and what his future holds both working with professional pitching coaches and his ability to analyze and implement potential changes to improve.

Last year after completing a season of high school baseball that saw him pitch to an 8-2 record with a 1.00 earned run average with 91 strikeouts in 60 1⁄3 innings as a senior, the Pirates had Priester begin in their Gulf Coast League.

In the GCL, Priester would start eight games and would go 1-1 with a 3.03 earned run average. He showed enough ability that the Pirates moved him to the West Virginia Black Bears to pitch start one game to end the season at the short-season Single-A affiliate.

Whether it was nerves or just an off day for Priester, he would have uncharacteristic control issues and walk four batters in four innings, after walking just ten batters in 32 1⁄3 innings in the GCL. The end result would be an earned run average of 4.50 in his one start with the Black Bears.

In total, Priester would go 1-1 in 36 2⁄3 innings pitched, allowing 32 hits, 13 earned runs, one home run, 14 walks, and 41 strikeouts with an earned run average of 3.19 and WHIP of 1.255 between his time in the GCL and at West Virginia.

Priester had an excellent strikeout rate last season, striking out 10.1 batters per nine innings pitched or 26.5% of the batters that he faced. His walk rate was low, walking 3.4 batters per nine innings or 7.1% of the batters he faced. Those numbers are indicative of a pitcher with excellent control.

In addition to having great control, Priester has shown that he is a ground ball pitcher who can keep the ball in the park. Last year he had a 55% ground ball rate and gave up only one home run.

That coupled with the excellent strikeout rates and low walk rates are a major reason why Priester ranks as the fourth-best prospect in the Pirates organization, their second-best pitching prospect and Baseball America’s second-best prospect in the GCL.

The fact that Priester was moved from the GCL to West Virginia so quickly is a testament to how advanced he is already. He is expected to start at Low-A Greensboro this season and have a full season of play. That said, the Pirates will likely manage his workload and innings pitched.

Currently, Priester projects as a pitcher with a ceiling that is the number one pitcher in the rotation. He is expected to add mass to his frame as he matures, which could push his fastball velocity close to triple digits, which would make his elite curveball and newly discovered changeup even more effective. Priester is currently projected to be called up to the major leagues in 2023.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans should be extremely excited about what the future holds for Priester. A pitcher of his age rarely possesses an arsenal of Priester’s caliber, with excellent control and makeup.

As a result, the future is bright for Priester and the Pirates appear to have found an ace in the making. It will be worth monitoring his progress closely in his first full season in the minors.