Cary-Grove alum Priester working toward MLB debut
The time is drawing closer when Quinn Priester will get the call up from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It may not come this summer, as Priester suffered a minor injury setback coming out of spring training and has made only two starts with the Double-A Altoona Curve.
MLB.com projects Priester, 21, to reach the big leagues by next season if the 2019 Cary-Grove graduate progresses as the Pirates hope.
"It's exciting. The weird thing is, we have so many call-ups, and a lot of guys I've pitched against or played with who are in the big leagues now," Priester said. "So it's like, 'Hey, they've gotten some hits, but I gotten those guys out and I know how to do that, and they're playing in the big leagues.' I feel like I definitely could, but I'm young and there are things I need to get better at.
"I'm encouraged with seeing a lot of young guys playing for us and having success. It gives everybody encouragement, they're our buddies, we played with these guys. That means we can do it too, there's no doubt about it, you just have to keep working hard."
Priester was Pittsburgh's No. 18 overall pick in the 2019 MLB First-Year Player Draft. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the regular minor league season for 2020 and Priester, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander, was 7-4 with a 3.04 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 97⅔ innings at single-A Greensboro last season.
Priester sustained an oblique strain on his left side on the final day of spring training and recently made his first two starts for Altoona. He has thrown seven innings, struck out eight and walked two and owns a 2.57 ERA.
The injury set him back about six weeks.
"It stunk. I hurt it pitching. Injuries are unavoidable," said Priester, who had one rehabilitation start each at Bradenton and Greensboro before joining the Curve. "You just have to get healthy again. We improved upon some things. I really pitch the same, just a little bit more efficiently.
"I threw a lot of strikes. That's what I'm happy about. That's the biggest thing is getting ahead and getting comfortable at the level. The first start was really, really good."
Priester is well aware that his 39 walks last season is not acceptable and is one of the most important things he will be working on this season.
Priester is ranked by MLB.com as the Pirates' No. 4 prospect and as No. 45 in the top 100 prospects for all teams. Dodgers prospect Bobby Miller, a 2017 McHenry graduate, is No. 34 and could get called up later this season.
Priester is focused on smaller goals to reach his big goal.
"Everything needs to get a little bit better," Priester said. "The stuff's good enough. Last year, the knock on me was walks, and that's something that I've gotten better at, being in the strike zone. Simplifying everything by speeding it up a little bit has helped a lot.
"The more I get comfortable with what I'm doing, the better thing are going to get, too. The deeper I get to work into games, the more I'll be challenged, the better I'll end up getting and hopefully pitch my way into a spot in Pittsburgh as soon as I can."
Priester is enjoying the challenge of facing Double-A hitters, who he says are more adept at making quick adjustments.
"Throwing a lot strikes early and throwing breaking balls late has been working, so those guys will adjust and know the breaking ball's coming late and spoil them," Priester said. "It's good to see that because you have to make those adjustments and read the game batter to batter.
"If a guy's trying to hit fastballs early in the count, throw him a breaking ball and get ahead. It's fun seeing the cat-and-mouse game again with the pitcher and hitter. I feel like these guys make adjustments really fast."
Priester is playing for manager Kieran Mattison again this season. Mattison was promoted to Altoona after leading the Greensboro Grasshoppers High-A East championship series.
Mattison told Anthony Murphy of PiratesProspects.com an interesting story about Priester regarding his competitiveness. Priester was done pitching in Game 4 of the series, which was headed to a fifth and deciding game. Priester told Mattison he would be in the bullpen if needed.
The skipper passed, not wanting to risk anything with such a valued prospect, but appreciated Priester's attitude.
Priester knows his time will come, likely in the not-too-distant future, if he just keeps working.
"You play well and things will take care of themselves. I don't control where and when I get moved, but I control how I pitch," he said. "I enjoy being in Altoona with the guys I'm with now and trying to win games with them and trying to get better and eventually become a major league pitcher as soon as I can.
"I'm not thinking this year or next year, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and keep my head down. I trust it'll happen sooner rather than later, given the work I've been putting in."