Prospect season in review: Pirates’ Priester
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at second-ranked Pirates prospect Quinn Priester. Although there were moments in 2021 which proved there was a lot left to learn, Quinn Priester also showed why his ceiling is so high. Sure,
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at second-ranked Pirates prospect Quinn Priester.
Although there were moments in 2021 which proved there was a lot left to learn, Quinn Priester also showed why his ceiling is so high.
Sure, this isn’t a unique experience for a 20-year-old in his first full season. But Priester had stretches during his year with High-A Greensboro that separated him from the pack.
The Pirates’ second-ranked prospect finished the season with a 7-4 record, a 3.04 ERA and 98 strikeouts over 97⅔ innings for the Grasshoppers. He held opposing batters to a .225 average while posting a 1.24 WHIP. The numbers stand out despite a fairly inconsistent season overall.
Priester didn’t come out of the gate strong last season, understandable considering his first start in May was nearly two years removed from his previous Minor League game.
The Glendale Heights, Illinois, native pitched in just nine games after being selected with the No. 18 overall pick in 2019. All but one of those appearances came at the Rookie level. He made one start for Class A Short Season West Virginia and finished the year with a 3.19 ERA and 41 strikeouts over 36⅔ total innings.
Priester spent most of the offseason and pandemic year back in Illinois, braving the cold at his high school field. But after packing on some muscle and growing over a year of professional instruction, Priester garnered a lot of attention at the Pirates’ alternate training site.
“We’ve been encouraged with both the way the ball is coming out of his hand and the way he’s matured as a young man and his presence in camp,” Pirates assistant director of Minor League operations Brian Selman told MLB.com during instructs last October. “His repertoire is advanced beyond his age. It’s just refining it to the point where he’s ready to compete next year.”
The improvements that the 6-foot-3. 210-pounder made during the off year were reflected in his raw stuff. Priester's average fastball velocity hovered around 97 mph, his curveball’s spin rate reached an elite level and his sinking two-seamer got its desired ground-ball contact. Mix in a developing changeup and slider, and there was definitely something special about his arsenal.
But that didn’t mean he’d have it all figured out by the start of his first full professional season.
Priester made two appearances in the Grapefruit League, during which he walked four while allowing one run on one hit over 1⅓ innings. Control and command troubles followed him into the regular season, and he was a little snakebit to start the year.
He surrendered 14 runs (11 of them earned) over 21 total innings for a 4.71 ERA with 17 punchouts and eight walks in his first five starts for the Grasshoppers. While it seems like the right-hander didn’t maximize his potential in that short sample, the span also included consecutive five-inning scoreless appearances.
The No. 49 overall prospect hit his stride over his next 10 starts. During that span, Priester went 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 51 strikeouts over 53 innings. He struck out a batter in the Futures Game at Coors Field during that run, and concluded the stretch with a career-high 10-punchout performance that included an immaculate inning against Winston-Salem.
“The biggest thing has been being where my feet are at,” Priester told MLB.com after that outing. “Maybe if a call didn’t go my way, I would let it eat at me, or if I gave up a hit, that would get to me a little bit. Tonight, I just went. No overthinking. I only cared about what I could control.”
Just two starts later against Asheville, Priester struck out the first nine batters he faced en route to a new career high of 13 whiffs, and he carried a perfect game into the sixth.
“My goal is to be able to pitch like I did tonight in the big leagues,” Priester told MLB.com following that start. “It's a good first step, being able to compete and feel good at this level. I just want to continue to do good things wherever I go, and ultimately, I hope it translates to the big league level when my time is ready.”
"Quinn Priester has good stuff."— Young Bucs (@YoungBucsPIT) July 12, 2021
We agree. pic.twitter.com/ShBeUGv8Js
Priester finished the year striking out 9.03 batters per nine innings and was one of 160 Minor League pitchers with a K/9 better than 9.0. Despite averaging more than a strikeout per inning, he only had more whiffs than innings pitched in six starts, with a 1.73 ERA in those games.
The lanky righty can get on top of batters pretty well and was effective in getting outs on the ground, riding that sinker to a 54.7 percent ground-ball rate.
With the Pirates still a couple years from contention, there’s still plenty of time for Priester’s education as a pitcher. He spoke after the 13-strikeout game about adjustments between starts, mixing the gameplan based on the opposing lineup, determining when to use the slider or curveball as his primary breaking pitch and throwing every pitch with the intention of getting an out.
Priester was a main attraction at the Pirates’ "Get Better at Pitching" camp in December. And at the start of the season, he knew that refining his changeup into a plus pitch could get him to the next level.
Without much of a reason to rush or even streamline his development, the 2021 version of Priester will likely be a very different pitcher than the one who someday debuts in Pittsburgh. But his first full season still provided that glimpse of something special.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.