Baseball: Hard work pays off for Cary-Grove's Priester
Thanksgiving was over.
Cary-Grove's football state championship dream had been realized.
As the calendar turned to December, it was time for senior Quinn Priester to turn his full attention to the business of baseball in every sense.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound right-hander had been linked with the phrase "possible first-round draft pick" since a series of strong performances on the national summer circuit.
And why not? Few 18-year-olds throw a four-seam fastball consistently at 96 mph, a two-seamer at 89-91 and a curveball that drops off the table as dependably as a bowl of baby food.
Nearly every Major League Baseball organization requested a sit-down with the Cary phenom. Quinn and parents Andy and Chris, who are divorced, had ground rules. Yes, they absolutely wanted to speak to every team with interest, Quinn said, but only from the time football ended until Cary-Grove baseball practice began on Feb. 17.
Because football lasted until the final weekend of November, the next two and a half months became an adventure in time management for the family.
The Cary street Chris Priester lives on became familiar to MLB scouts. Once the at-home visits began they continued in a steady stream, sometimes four nights a week, Chris said.
Andy said all the visits were exciting to a degree because a Major League Baseball team was showing interest in his son, but tedium eventually set in as it would with any repetitive scenario.
"It was laborious," Andy said. "You'd get home from work, have dinner, clean up, have the meetings with the teams, Quinn would do homework and then you go to bed."
"It was essentially a job interview," Chris added.
Baseball lifers peppered Quinn with questions. They wanted to know about his off-season throwing program. They asked to see his pitch grips. Did he lift weights? What was his workout routine? What big adversity had he overcome?
As Quinn put it: "They basically want to know what's between the ears."
There was one question he said he never liked: What is the one thing that could keep your from making it to the major leagues?
"I really tried not to answer that one," Quinn said under his breath.
While the Cary version of winter meetings was taking place, Quinn was preparing physically for the most important baseball season of his life.
Because playing split end and cornerback for a state championship football team required the skill sets of running and jumping, he had trimmed down to 185 pounds. The offseason goal was to put weight back on and increase his overall strength and endurance to maintain fastball velocity deep into ballgames.
He found the right trainer in White Sox conditioning coach Allen Thomas, or AT as Quinn calls him.
Thomas famously trained his son, Mt. Carmel graduate Alek, who became a second-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks last June. Alek is currently assigned to the Kane County Cougars.
Quinn's adviser, Sam Samardzija, also advises Alek. He connected Quinn with Allen Thomas and the workouts began on weekends in Bridgeport, blocks from Guaranteed Rate Field.
It was an eye-opening experience for the young athlete. Instead of benching and squatting and doing other repetitive lifts in a routine, Thomas kept him guessing.
"AT changed it every single time," Quinn said. "I had no idea what we were going to do. We did cable stuff, slide-board stuff, bands, prowler pushes, jumping, plyos, squats, dumbbells. There were so many different things he threw in and it made it fun every single time. You enjoyed getting your butt kicked."
Quinn had no intention of opening the season throwing at his top velocity. The plan was to build velo over the course of the season and peak in the final few weeks, dovetailing perfectly with the state tournament and pre-draft scout season.
Quinn pitched on Thursdays and scouts came in droves. They watched intently, aimed radar guns, scribbled notes. They texted what they saw to superiors but not while Quinn was pitching. Said smiling Hampshire pitcher Nick Sladek, a longtime travel ball teammate and friend of Priester's with a dry sense of humor: "All the scouts were looking on their phones when I was up there."
The offseason workouts paid dividends. The 2019 Daily Herald All-Area Captain finished his senior season 8-2 with a 1.16 ERA and .779 WHIP. In 60⅓ innings he struck out 91 and walked 14.
Quinn can hit, too. He batted .317 (32-for-101) with 6 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs. He homered in his final high school at-bat last Saturday in a sectional final loss to Hampshire. He later lauded his teammates for winning three playoff games, including the program's first regional title in eight years, after closing the regular season with 8 losses in 10 games.
"For us to bounce back, win a regional and come really darn closed to winning the sectional, I was just really proud of how the team responded," he said. "That's the moment that stands out."
As the calendar turned to June, Quinn Priester was drafted No. 18 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The at-home meetings, the weekend trips to Bridgeport to work with AT, all the hours honing his skills achieved the desired result.
"My hard work paid off," Quinn said. "Knowing this is a new beginning, I'm going to have to get to work even more now. I'm fired up."