Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Did Pirates pick right player in prep pitcher Quinn Priester? |
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Kevin Gorman

Neal Huntington might have foreshadowed the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first-round draft pick when he cited an old baseball adage Sunday on his weekly radio show.

The right high school player gets to the majors faster than the wrong college player.

The Pirates had strong ties to both in Monday’s MLB Draft, when they selected right-hander Quinn Priester of Cary-Grove High School in Illinois with the No. 18 pick. The Pirates are hoping Priester, a TCU recruit, is the right high school player.

Moments after history was made – for the first time, the first six picks were position players – the Cincinnati Reds chose TCU left-hander Nick Lodolo at No. 7. The Pirates had taken Lodolo with their competitive balance lottery pick three years ago but he turned down their offer and opted to play college baseball.

More than anything, Huntington has to be hoping that Priester signs with the Pirates instead of choosing to play college baseball at TCU. Priester’s reaction to the pick was a positive sign.

1. Scouting report: The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Priester was the first prep pitcher picked in the draft, as MLB Network analyst Jim Callis warned that “teams get scared of high school right-handers.”

But Callis and former Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd raved about Priester’s four-seam fastball that touches 97 mph and a two-seamer with “so much movement,” as well as his elite athleticism.

“I just think this guy has a huge ceiling,” Callis said.

Even so, I’ve seen Priester projected as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Either way, he adds high-end pitching depth to a club that included 2017 first-rounder Shane Baz in the trade with Tampa Bay for Chris Archer.

2. Self-made pitcher: Priester has never had a formal pitching coach, which is unusual for an elite prospect.

Even more unusual is his method for developing pitches.

Priester watched YouTube videos of his favorite major-leaguers, from Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks to Noah Syndergaard and Walker Buehler. He used slow motion to pick up the pitches from similar arm slots or to focus on lower-body movements that he could mimic.

“It’s more learning visually from people who are the best at the game at it,” Priester said. “If I could pick up one little thing to get me better, then it was absolutely worth it.”

A good sign? Priester is excited about the opportunity to work with a professional pitching coach.

3. Pitch/count: Priester is confident in his four-pitch repertoire, noting that he has most command of his high-velocity four-seam fastball and can throw it in any count.

Priester throws his two-seamer inside to right-handed hitters and outside to left-handers to induce weak contact.

“Guys will pound it into the ground,” Priester said, “or just swing right over top of it.”

But Priester called his breaking ball, a hammer curve, his best pitch. He said his changeup is a work in progress.

“It’s definitely going to take some time and hard work for that to become a plus-pitch,” Priester said, “a pitch that I’m able to use in the future in the big leagues.”

4. Two-sport star: Priester starred as a wide receiver and defensive back, with 38 catches for 671 yards and 11 touchdowns to go with six interceptions for Cary-Grove’s undefeated Illinois Class 6A state champions.

Priester said he was recruited for football by smaller Division-I programs but noted that Northwestern offered him a chance to play both sports. The Illinois Gatorade player of the year, Priester also has a 3.73 grade-point average and is 6-2, with a 1.20 ERA, allowing 25 hits while striking out 73 and walking 11 in 462/3 innings this season.

“I think being a multiple-sport athlete has helped me become much more dynamic on the mound,” Priester said. “I think there’s so many benefits to playing multiple sports. I wish more guys did it.”

While that might remind Pirates fans of Neil Walker at Pine-Richland, Priester has drawn comparisons to former Notre Dame two-sport star Jeff Samardzija.

That might not be a coincidence. Samardzija’s brother, Sam, is an agent for the Wasserman Media Group and is serving as Priester’s draft adviser.

5. Decision looming: The Pirates still have to sign Priester, and their offer will go a long way to determining whether he decides to go pro or play at TCU.

It doesn’t help that Arrieta, one of Priester’s favorite pitchers, played at TCU. When the Pirates picked Lodolo 41st overall in 2016, they offered him $1.75 million — above the slot value of $1.576 million – but he opted for TCU.

Three years later, Lodolo is set to sign for a slot value of $5.43 million, according to ESPN insider Jeff Passan.

The slot value for the No. 18 pick is $3.48 million. It’s hard to imagine Priester passing that up.

But, for a high school kid, TCU offers a lure for more and Priester understands his leverage.

“We’re really optimistic,” Priester said, “but nothing is set in stone.”

The Pirates better hope they got this one right.

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