A change is coming for Pirates 2019 first-round draft pick Quinn Priester.
And that’s a good thing. Because the high school pitcher needs one.
No, he’s not changing positions. Or going to back to football.
The “change” I’m talking about is the one Priester is adding to his pitching arsenal.
Because he doesn’t have a polished changeup, and he thinks that’s necessary to master before he becomes a big-league pitcher.
The Pirates seem to agree.
“He was doing a favor for a high school hitter when he threw a changeup,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “Because they might actually be able to hit it.”
At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Priester says he can hit 97 mph with his fastball. Most high school hitters can’t touch that velocity. His 1.11 ERA and his .152 batting average against at Cary-Grove High School in Illinois illustrate that.
His changeup — unrefined though it may be — dips to about 85 mph. That range could throw off a big-league hitter’s timing. For a lot of high school kids, though, swinging at an 85 mph pitch simply gives them a fighting chance.
They could be thinking fastball, swinging fastball, and hit the changeup by accident.
Give-and-take like that can make scouting a scholastic kid’s ability to change speeds a tough task.
“It’s a challenge, even at the college ranks,” Huntington admitted. “College pitchers who have good changeups are typically soft-tossers because they’ve had to develop the changeup to keep hitters off fastballs. Your power guys usually don’t throw a lot of changeups until they get into professional baseball.”
As Huntington pointed out, rare are the starting pitchers who don’t have some sort of reliable changeup in their bag of tricks at the major-league level. He pointed to A.J. Burnett as one notable exception who didn’t use a changeup very much.
“It is a projection,” Huntington said. “You are looking at his physical and mental aptitude. The delivery. The hand speed.”
Huntington insists Priester has those positives to develop the pitch.
And Priester is already trying. He writes goals to himself in dry-erase marker on his mirror. One that exists now is to develop a changeup.
The strategy behind his approach appears sound. Priester is trying to master a two-seam circle grip.
“I like to play it off my two-seam sinker,” he explained. “I like it to have it give the same action, just a big drop in the velocity.”
That’s a little more nuanced. It’s Priester’s four-seam fastball which gets to the high 90s. His two-seamer usually hovers around 91 mph. And that’s perhaps why, when he misses with the changeup, it can be trouble.
But Priester says he’s finding the touch.
“From my bullpens, facing high-level hitters, there’s a foundation there,” he said. “It’s getting more consistent, more command, more confidence in that pitch. It’s going to be huge for me.”
Once Priester accomplishes that, maybe the next dry-erase message on his mirror can be: “Get to the majors.”
Heck, if he’d like to write that message now, he should go right ahead.
The Pirates’ pitching staff needs all the help it can get.