Pirates Prospect Quinn Priester Talks Pitching

Quinn Priester has gained a lot of helium since ranking seventh on our 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects list. Thanks to stellar showings at the alternate camp and instructs, the 6-foot-3, 215 pound right-hander has climbed into the middle of Baseball America’s and MLB Pipeline’s Top 100s. (Our 2021 Pirates offseason list hasn’t run yet, but according to Eric Longenhagen, Priester will feature prominently and will grace this year’s Top 100.) Just yesterday, Jim Callis wrote that some scouts have told him that Priester — the 18th overall pick in the 2019 draft — could emerge as the best pitching prospect in baseball in 2021.

Priester, who’ll celebrate his 21st birthday this coming September, was featured here at FanGraphs 12 months ago. Last week, he caught us up with the strides he’s made since that time.

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David Laurila: You were at the alternate site last summer. What was that experience like?

Quinn Priester: “It was about two weeks, so it wasn’t a whole lot of time, but it was super big for me. I got to be around older guys, some who have been in the big leagues, that have experienced things I haven’t. I’ve only had half a season with two short-season teams — I haven’t come close to a minor-league season of 144 games — so I’m behind the learning curve in that respect.”

Laurila: What can you learn from being around more experienced players?

Priester: “Just the way they prepare. They have intent with every throw, because they know how valuable those throws are over the course of the season. Wasting throws is going to lead to more soreness, and stuff like that. It was cool to literally see how to play catch again, and not just be the high school kid who throws really hard. It was about getting in the work that I need to get in, like staying behind fastballs and making the most out of the couple of curveballs I’ll throw in catch play. Rather than just throwing, I was having direction and a goal.

“It was also an awesome opportunity to face better hitters than I ever have. That taught me a lot about staying consistent with my delivery, not changing arm speeds, and how I need to throw off-speeds for strikes. If I don’t throw off-speed pitches for strikes, I’m going to have some really hard days going forward. Learning those things now… and quite honestly, I was learning them the easy way. I wasn’t going out and giving up a five-spot in the first inning.”

Laurila: That said, giving up a five-spot in the first inning can be a great learning experience. Game action is invaluable for any young player.

Priester: “Oh, absolutely. And having to pitch with a runner on second base. Last summer, before alternate camp, it just was the batter hitting and me pitching; there was no runner. I didn’t have to control the running game at all. Once I got to the alternate site, I had to get back to focusing on things you have to do in a game environment. That’s something I’m really looking forward to this year: just playing baseball again.”

Laurila: What have you learned from throwing in front of a Rapsodo and an Edgertronic?

Priester: “It’s really good feedback, but I’m more of a feel-based pitcher. I don’t need a Rapsodo or TrackMan to tell me whether my pitches are good or not. But they do reassure. If I feel that I threw a really good changeup — I’ve been saying forever that I’m working on that pitch — it’s great to see that the numbers agree that it was really good. But I try to not focus on that too much.

“I’ve run into trouble in the past by trying to get really good numbers. And guess what? Then I start walking guys. I’m less competitive in the game, because I started getting away from competing against the batter, and started competing against the machine.

“At the same time, the Edgertronic stuff is so cool to see — the small differences that can create a good pitch from a bad pitch. Instead of over-pronating a changeup, perfectly pronating it and getting that good boring action with a little bit of depth. Using that technology is valuable to my development. It’s as good as you want to make it, and it’s also as bad as you can make it if you focus on it too much. I’m trying to find the right balance.”

Laurila: By focusing too much on the numbers, I assume you mean something along the lines of, “That last curveball was X, and I need to make the next one Y.’

Priester: “Exactly. If all I’m thinking about is spinning it, I might land it six feet in front of the plate. Did I spin it 3,000? Yeah, that’s awesome, but it was an uncompetitive pitch. It was a wasted pitch. It great on TrackMan, but it was a bad pitch.”

Laurila: What is the spin rate on your curveball? You throw a good one — is it a competitive one?

Priester: “At the end of last year, I think it was between 2,800 and 3,000. I’d sit in that range. There was one day where I was spinning it high 2,900s, low 3,000s, and then the next day it was low 2,800s with a few that were a little bit above 2,900. It kind of depends on the day, but that’s the case with most everything.”

Laurila: Do you still consider your curveball your best pitch?

Priester: “I think so, yes. I think that’s a big separator for me. A lot of guys throw 98-mph fastballs now, so it’s a very valuable pitch to keep hitters honest — for pretty much everything else in my arsenal.”

Laurila: Has it remained the same curveball you threw in high school?

Priester: “Yes. It hasn’t really been tweaked. Same grip, same everything. It’s just that I’m learning to throw it better from having more reps. I throw it with a traditional curveball grip, and I like to hold it a little bit looser, whereas I used to kind of bury it. So maybe there has been a change. I used to bury it in my hand, and now it’s more out on the finger pads.”

Laurila: What about your still-work-in-progress changeup?

Priester: “The biggest thing for me is to not try to slow it down by thinking of it as an off-speed pitch. It is an off-speed pitch, but if I’m thinking about it that way, it’s a bad pitch. I’m finding that I need to keep the arm speed and ‘just throw it, man’ — just think of it like a fastball. I know that’s what everyone says, but it’s hard to do until you actually do it. Right now, it’s looking the best it ever has. I’m trying to take more velocity off — in my last pen it was 89-90 — but the shape is so much better than what it was. I’m really happy with the trajectory.”

Laurila: Do you know what the spin rate is on your changeup?

Priester: “Generally, it’s going to be between 2,000 and 2,200. But 2,200… if I’m spinning it there, that’s pretty much another two-seam. That’s not ideal.”

Laurila: What about your four-seam? When we talked in February of last year, you said that getting more ride up in the zone was on of the goals.

Priester; “As I’ve been getting stronger, and moving better, the four-seam is kind of taking care of itself. The velo is ticking up, and with that, the spin is going up and I’m getting a little more ride on that ball. So up in the zone is going to play better. It’s really just about staying through the pitch. With better biomechanics and cleaning up my arm a little bit, it’s just coming naturally.”

Laurila: You’ve reportedly gained velocity. What have you been topping out at?

Priester: “I’ve hit 99, and was sitting 96-97 at instructs, and at the alternate site.”

Laurila: Your two-seamer remains your primary fastball, right?

Priester: “I’d say I throw them evenly now. It kind of depends on the hitter. There are some guys whose bat path is going to naturally follow the sinker, so it’s not as good of a pitch against them.”

Laurila: That circles us back to not wanting your changeup to too closely resemble your two-seamer.

Priester: “Yes, and I definitely like to tunnel those off pitches of each other. But there’s a big difference in velocity. With my fastball being [high 90s] there’s still a lot of separation.”

Laurila: One last thing: You’ve been attracting a lot of buzz in recent months. What does that feel like?

Priester: “It’s definitely cool to know that people are saying these awesome things about you, but I don’t like to read into it too much. At the end of the day, I still have to go out there and play baseball. Articles can’t make me play better, if that makes sense. So while I appreciate all the recognition I’ve been getting, I still have to go out there and play. It’s on me to keep getting better.”





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.

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jbgocubs
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jbgocubs

sounds like a good kid, hope he finds his way to a competent franchise like Gerrit Cole and Chuck Morton and Tyler Glasnow

szielinski
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szielinski

I can’t even guess how in incompetent franchise selected him with the 18th pick.

jbgocubs
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jbgocubs

The Pirates also drafted Cole and Glasnow; what does that have to do with what I said, szielinski?

szielinski
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szielinski

It reveals competence.

jbgocubs
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jbgocubs

ok the buccos are a competent franchise, point taken

jbgocubs
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jbgocubs

hopefully they can show their proven competence and get Priester throwing everything in the dirt and make his stuff play worse than it is!

szielinski
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szielinski

Preister is doing just fine.

szielinski
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szielinski

These drafts show competence.