Quinn Priester is a talented young right-hander with a lot to learn. Drafted 18th overall last summer by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he’s a 19-year-old Illinois native who came to pro ball with scant schooling on the baseball front. Unlike most high-profile preps, Priester didn’t have a pitching coach growing up.
He fared well in his inaugural efforts versus professional hitters. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound hurler got his feet wet with 36.2 innings split between the Gulf Coast League and short-season West Virginia, logging a 3.19 ERA while averaging over a strikeout per frame. Not that the numbers matter. What does is his potential. Our Pirates prospects list isn’t yet out, but you can expect to see Priester toward the top.
Priester talked about his repertoire, and the early stages of his development, at the tail end of the 2019 season.
David Laurila: What do you consider your best pitch?
Quinn Priester: “I’d say my curveball and my two-seam sinker. Those are the two pitches that stand out the most.”
Laurila: Let’s talk about your curveball. When you did you first begin throwing one?
Priester: “I was actually really young; probably too young, to be honest. When I was 11, we had a coach who didn’t allow us to throw curveballs, but he did tell us, ‘Hey, when you do throw a curveball, this is how you put as little stress on your arm as possible.’ We were taught one grip, and how to throw it that one way.
“Even though I had to keep it my back pocket, I started having a lot of fun with it. And I loved to throw it, so I’d always work on it. Then, when I was about 12 or 13, I was able to start using it [in games]. From that point on, I was able to get decent movement on it.”
Laurila: How were you taught to throw a curveball?
Priester: “Originally, we were taught to throw it like a football. The way I think about it now is that it was more slider-y. Something that really stuck with me was a coach saying, ‘What’s the opposite of a fastball? What’s the opposite spin of a fastball?’ I was 14 years old, and I didn’t know. He told me, ‘It’s a curveball. A fastball is supposed to spin perfectly backwards, and a curveball is supposed to spin perfectly forward.’ I thought about that and was like, ‘Wow.’ I had a traditional grip with it, and my mindset became to pull the seams parallel, to get 12-6 action on it.”
Laurila: Is it the same grip now?
Priester: “The grip I was first taught is the grip I’m using now, but in the middle of that, one our coaches was like, ‘I want you to do it this way.’ Being young, I was going to do what the coach wanted, so I actually started gripping the very top of the horseshoe. You get the bottom of that horseshoe, the U part of it, and I rested my fingers in there. I ended up doing that for a year or two. Then I ended up switching back, because it was more comfortable and I felt I could control it better.”
Laurila: Was the action any different with the other grip?
Priester: “The action I had with the horseshoe grip was a little slurvier. Something I remembered hearing is that a slurvy action might have more of a tendency to match the bat path, compared to a straight vertical pitch. On a 12-6, you kind of have to swing at a select spot in order to make contact, whereas on a slurve you can go through your normal bat path and might just hit it, because the pitch is matching that path.”
Laurila: I assume you hear the term “tunneling” fairly often.
Priester: “Absolutely. I heard it for the first time maybe two years ago and didn’t fully understand it. I thought I did. I was seeing Pitching Ninja, and all that stuff, but then having it fully explained to me this year — how you can pitch off it, how you can pitch into a tunnel — gave me a better understanding. I obviously have a lot of work to do to become more consistent and work that into my sequences.”
Laurila: Ideally, your curveball isn’t popping out of your hand…
Priester: “For sure, and the hitters will tell you how a good pitch is. There are times where I’ll throw it, and right away it will be, ‘Shoot, that wasn’t a good one.’ You go from there and adjust; you try to get that pitch to stop flipping over that front finger. If you pay attention, you’ll see how a hitter takes the pitch. Was it a panic take, or was he spitting on it because he recognized it as a ball out of the hand?”
Laurila: Is it always the same curveball, or do you vary the shape?
Priester: “Sometimes when I’m throwing to a lefty I’ll try to backdoor the pitch, which will make it a little slurvier. I’ll start it in the right-handed batter’s box and bring it into the zone. And sometimes, when I overthrow, it gets kind of slider-y because I got out of my mechanics. But really, when I’m consistent it’s the 12-6 that I mentioned. It’s mostly a good ground-ball pitch, but with two strikes sometimes I’ll try to really rip it to get that swing and miss.”
Laurila: How would you describe your sinker?
Priester: “It’s a very traditional two-seam grip. I predominantly put pressure on my pointer finger, my index finger, just as I’m forcing that pitch. Movement-wise, there’s arm-side run, and sink. And I throw a four-seam, as well. My glove-side fastball is a four-seam, and it will have natural run because of my arm slot. The two-seam is more away to lefties and in to righties.”
Laurila: Elevated fastballs, especially high-spin elevated fastballs, have become increasingly common. Is that part of your repertoire?
Priester: “A high fastball can be a really effective pitch, and I have used it to my advantage, but being able to get more true spin on my four-seam, to give it that riding life up in the zone, is something I maybe need to do better in the future — especially with the way the game is going. I actually have a ton of things in the back of my mind that I should work on. I’ll see what the Pirates say as we move forward. This being my first year, we haven’t really made any changes yet.”
Laurila: Are there pitchers that you model your game after”
Priester: “I really like watching Walker Buehler — he’s electric and truly fun to watch — but I don’t model myself after any one pitcher. The way I look at it, I’m my own person and need to get better based on my own skill set. That said, I have been told that I’m similar to Rick Porcello. We have somewhat similar repertoires, although he has a slider and a changeup. The [changeup] I have is still a work in progress. I need to make it a lot more consistent. Sometimes it has more depth, and sometimes it has more run. There were also times this year, especially early on, that I threw it 88 [mph]. Sometimes I got it down to 84.”
Laurila: What is your fastball velocity?
Priester: “My four-seam is 94-95, and my two-seam will drop to 92-93. My changeup sometimes being 88-89… I know there are guys who throw that power changeup, like Zack Greinke. I think he had a game where he threw a changeup with more velocity than his two-seam. But I probably want to take a little more off of my mine. Right now it’s a two-seam circle, and I can maybe tweak the grip around a little bit.”
Laurila: Any final thoughts?
Priester: “Only that I’ve learned so much this year in pro ball. I’d never had a pitching coach before. I’m also out here around guys who live and breathe pitching, which is really fun. That, and what I’ve already been able to implement into my game, makes me really excited about the future.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.