Kevin Gorman: With top pick Quinn Priester, Pirates love the man in the mirror
Upon being introduced as the newest member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Quinn Priester casually mentioned the mirror where he wrote his goals in dry-erase marker.
There was nothing casual about his goals, which were outlined in an arc around his bathroom mirror so Priester could still see himself while brushing his teeth after his morning shower.
Priester chased every one of them with a passion.
The practice started his sophomore year after Rod Saffert, an English teacher Cary-Grove High School in Illinois, suggested that the chances to achieve your goals increase if you see them every day. So Priester made a daily habit of looking at them.
“Always at the top,” Priester said, “were my baseball goals.”
The first was to throw a fastball 90 mph. That was followed by earning an invitation to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park in San Diego, to win a state football championship and to get straight As, as well as innocuous chores such as to make his bed and load the dishwasher.
“All those dumb little things that make a difference to me,” Priester said. “Now I know what my goals are, and I’m ready to get after it each day.”
Every time Priester reached a goal, he erased it and added another. When Priester became a top prospect, he added one that remained for years: first-round draft pick.
While Priester was visualizing himself as a major league pitcher, the Pittsburgh Pirates fell in love with the traits that led him to check off and erase goal after goal. When the Pirates chose the 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander with the No. 18 pick in the MLB Draft, he wasted no time setting a new goal.
The next morning, he sent a Snapchat video to his mother, Chris, of his top goal being erased. Now, Priester is focused on his improving his changeup. With a four-seam fastball that touches 97, a two-seamer in the low-90s and a hammer curve that he calls his best pitch, it’s the one throw that needs to be refined.
“He was doing a favor for a high school hitter when he threw a changeup,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington cracked, “because they might actually be able to hit it.”
As much as Huntington was joking, that the No. 18 pick in the draft was a prep pitcher from Illinois typically would have scouts doubled over in laughter. Priester is the first Illinois high school player selected in the first round since Houston took pitcher Mike Foltynewicz 19th overall in 2010.
But Priester dreamed big anyway and worked to make his dreams come true. His older sister, Madison, described him as the first to arrive at the ballpark and last to leave, a perfectionist so competitive that he wouldn’t stop until he was satisfied.
“He goes above and beyond in every single thing he does,” said Madison Priester, 21. “He’s so competitive, and it hasn’t changed since he was little.”
That’s what the Pirates fell in love with, as much as the mid-90s fastball, the power to his curveball and the two-sport prowess. Priester starred as a wide receiver and defensive back on the football state champions and was offered a scholarship to play both sports at Northwestern before choosing baseball at TCU.
“You see a lot of the traits,” Huntington said. “But then watching him compete, watching him be a really good teammate, watching him make adjustments really confirmed to our guys that this is a guy that has those traits that really good major league starting pitchers have.”
The Pirates could have been gun shy on drafting a pitcher committed to TCU, given that they used the No. 41 pick in the 2016 draft on prep pitcher Nick Lodolo. Instead of signing with the Pirates, Lodolo went to college and was chosen seventh overall by the Cincinnati Reds this year.
“It was in the back of our mind,” Huntington said. “Nick obviously bet on himself and made a great decision. But we looked at these at two separate entities and all of the information that we had on Quinn was that it was time for him to go professional and we were the right team to entice him to do that, and it’s worked out.”
With each goal Priester checked off, he realized his dreams. Priester reportedly received a $3.4 million signing bonus, slot value for the No. 18 pick, and is headed to Bradenton on Wednesday to play for the Gulf Coast League’s Marauders. He saw PNC Park in person for the first time and got goose bumps when slipping on a Pirates jersey and baseball cap at his introductory press conference.
“My hairs stood straight up. I got chills. I can’t stop smiling even now,” Priester said. “It shows the hard work that I’ve done to this point and also serves as motivation to get back to this point, to put on a Pirates jersey out there at PNC.”
That’s a new goal for the man in the mirror, another dream to chase down and eventually erase.
Now, Priester isn’t the only one who can see himself as a major league pitcher.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .