The end of the Neal Huntington era in Pittsburgh was certainly an interesting one. While he engineered the team’s first postseason appearance in two decades, things quickly crashed and burned throughout the organization and led way for Ben Cherington to take over.
While Cherington’s main goal was to infuse more talent into the system upon coming aboard, that didn’t exactly mean he walked into situation that was completely starving for prospects.
In fact, Huntington’s last draft class looks like it has the chance to be an impactful one. Matt Fraizer was the breakout star of the system in 2021, and was drafted in the third round. Matt Gorski (17 HR, 18 SB), Jared Triolo (minor league Gold Glover at third base) and Will Matthiessen (17 HR, 76 RBI) all were top ten draft picks that enjoyed strong seasons this past year.
Even Bear Bellomy, a 28th round pick, had a strong season that carried over to an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League.
It all started with Quinn Priester, however, the team’s top selection in 2019. A two-sport star in high school, the Pirates saw his big frame and athleticism and jumped at adding the righty to their system.
Those thoughts were validated during the 2020 season at the alternate training site where Preister was one of the talks of camp and many were pegging him as one of the prospects that could launch himself up ranking lists come 2021.
Pitching his first full professional season with High-A Greeensboro, Priester’s numbers maybe doesn’t jump off the page at first, especially considering how highly touted he was going into the year but there are several factors to consider.
Based on Baseball-Reference, Priester was more than three years younger than the average pitcher in High-A East, and his home stadium was one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league. Priester’s ERA at home (3.99) was nearly two runs higher than it was on the road (2.15), he also struck out more (10.5 K/9 to 7.41 K/9) and induced more ground ball outs (1.97 GO/AO, 1.67 GO/AO) away from First National Bank Field.
Overall, on the season, Priester posted a 7-4 record with a 3.04 ERA, striking out 98 batters in 97 2/3 innings (had another start in the playoffs that didn’t go to his official stats). He also held opponents to an .225 average and .628 OPS, and threw 60% of his pitches for strikes.
Priester features one of the best curveballs not only in the Pirates system but in all of minor league baseball, with FanGraphs giving it a FV rating of 80. He also flashes a mid-90s fastball, a heavy sinking two-seam fastball, slider and changeup.
Command of his fastball, especially to lefties, is where Priester can really let his game take off. Priester lives on the inner half of the plate when facing left-handed hitters, when he’s on he’s almost unhittable. Most of the trouble he got into last year came when he couldn’t command his fastball, nothing new.
In this clip, against the Bowling Green Hot Rods, Priester strikes out the side in the second inning back on June 29.
Priester is at his best when he works off his amazing curveball, leaning on that early in the count to get ahead. He jumps ahead 0-2 using a breaking ball before finishing off the hitter with a fastball up. Three pitches, two swing and misses and a strikeout.
Fast forward to the third batter of the inning, Priester worked in a 1-1 changeup for a swing and miss strike two before eventually moving back inside to get the strikeout.
The last clip features just swing and misses from his seven inning, 10 strikeout performance in August.
While it was perhaps his best start of the season, it didn’t start out that way. Priester gave up a leadoff base hit in the first, before eventually walking the next two batters to load the base. A strikeout and double play got him out of the inning, but it shows how inconsistent he can be with his control currently.
It wasn’t the banner season that many had thought Priester would have, and in turn he has seen his stock drop a little with some of the national media outlets. Not all of it was unjustified, no matter how good his breaking stuff is his upside is limited to how much progress the command on his fastball comes.
Factoring in he was one of the youngest players in High-A and will probably be the same in Double-A, Priester is still way ahead of the curve when it comes to other prep draftees.
Priester will headline what will likely a stacked Altoona rotation, and if the command takes the proper steps it won’t take long for the righty to reclaim some of the national hype he seemed to have lost in the offseason.