Quinn Priester is ready to learn.
When the 2019 first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates leaves for spring training on Feb. 12, he will be heading to the club’s major league camp as a non-roster invitee. The 20-year-old Cary-Grove graduate knows he has much to learn from his big league teammates.
“They’ve already gone through the growing pains that I’m going through,” Priester told the Northwest Herald.
After a disruptive 2020, during which the minor league baseball season was canceled and Priester lost his grandfather to COVID-19, it’s time for a new beginning. With it comes high expectations, although that’s nothing new for Priester.
MLB.com named him a top 100 prospect in baseball, coming in at No. 52. He ranks 15th among right-handed pitchers and third among Pirates prospects. MLB.com estimates he’ll be ready for the major leagues in 2023. With only about half a season of minor league experience from 2019, the journey has only just begun.
In September, Priester briefly earned a spot at the Pirates’ alternate training facility in Altoona, Pennsylvania. It was a chance to return to some form of organized baseball after spending most of the summer working out with other top prospects in the Chicago area.
To stay in baseball shape last summer, Priester threw live sessions at the Cary-Grove baseball field with the likes of Alek Thomas (the Diamondbacks’ 2018 second-round pick), Donivan Williams (a 2017 14th-round pick of the Cardinals), Antoine Kelly (a 2019 second-round pick of the Brewers), former C-G catchers Drew Stengren, who now plays at Central Michigan, and Wyatt Mascarella, who is now in the Royals farm system.
Priester was spending time at home and occasionally visiting an uncle’s lake house in Wisconsin – in other words, enjoying his summer in ways that pro baseball players rarely get to – when the Pirates told him to pack his bags for Altoona.
Every team had an alternate facility in 2020. In effect, they served as small-scale Triple A locations. Priester was a call away from the major leagues, but the Pirates had little intention of calling him up yet. Instead, he trained and pitched against some of the organization’s top minor league players.
“I was able to ask so many questions and be able to learn through failing,” Priester said.
That continued into the fall at the instructional league in Florida. Priester played against some of the top prospects from other teams with facilities in Florida. For the first time in a year, Priester was pitching in real games.
“It was weird,” Priester said. “I forgot that you actually have to control runners. Having to account for runners on base and not let them take an extra bag, it was weird. It was like trying to relearn it all over again.”
An invite to big league camp represents yet another opportunity to test himself. Priester said he’s looking at this as a chance to see where he needs to improve.
He has already gained a few miles per hour on his fastball in the past year. He worked with Scott Swanson from FullReps Training Center in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, to eliminate any wasted movement in his throwing motion.
The biggest adjustment they made was shortening Priester’s stride on the mound. The result has been more velocity and more consistent velocity. Priester said at the instructional league he was hitting 99 miles per hour and holding 96 to 97 miles per hour consistently over three or four innings.
Swanson and Priester met through a former coach of Preister’s, Mike Phelps. FullReps is a movement-based development center that works predominantly with throwers. They’ll do mechanical efficiency screenings and 3D capture to look for ways to improve movement.
Priester first went out to Pennsylvania to work with Swanson last June.
“When Quinn came to us, he moved really well to begin with,” Swanson said. “The biggest thing for Quinn was he’s a young kid with a super live arm and he’s going to start to log a lot of innings. When he came to us, it was more so helping him manage the framework of how he can modulate stress during the offseason.”
Swanson, a 2013 Binghamton graduate who played Division I baseball for the Bearcats, suffered numerous injuries throughout his playing career and has since devoted himself to finding more efficient ways to throw.
Through FullReps’ data-driven approach, Swanson helped Priester shorten his stride and decelerate his torso with the help of various targeted exercises.
“Quinn’s an athlete who’s very open to feedback,” Swanson said. “He interpreted the things we were telling him really well and he kind of wrote his own program. He took what he liked, what was creating results. He’s in a good place right now.”
His fastball and his curveball remain his primary pitches. Priester hopes to continue improving his changeup this year.
What the minor league baseball season might look like is anyone’s guess at this point. Baseball America reported last month that lower-level players in Single-A and Double-A wouldn’t start spring training until after the major league players leave their organization’s facility. That will result in a delayed season for those lower levels.
Last week, the MLB Players Association rejected a proposal from the league to delay the start of spring training and the major league season. Spring training will start on time. What happens next for a prospect like Priester is anyone’s guess.
He’s not even sure what comes next.
“In terms of moving levels [in the minors], that’s not something that’s within my control,” Priester said. “I just want to pitch well and that will take care of itself.”