Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed pitcher Quinn Priester has been playing well, so should the Bucs promote him?
Quinn Priester is one of the Pittsburgh Pirates top pitching prospects. Priester has been performing well recently, including a six-inning shutout, 11 strikeout game on Saturday. With his outstanding Saturday outing, as well as his recent hot streak, is it time the Bucs promote the talented right-hander?
Since May, Priester has a 3.13 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 1.32 WHIP. Priester has struck out just 22.3% of opponents with a 10% walk rate. However, Priester, like usual, has been excellent at preventing the long ball. He has a 52.2% ground ball rate on the season, which is pretty typical for him.
Granted, it is worth noting that Priester has had two outings in this May-to-present stretch that have inflated his numbers. On May 27th, he allowed five earned runs and six walks in just 1.2 innings. The second was his previous start, where he went 5.1 innings and allowed six earned runs on one walk.
While these two outings make up less than 20% of his total innings pitched, the amount of earned runs he’s let up accounts for over 50% of his total earned run amount. Aside from these two games, Priester has a 1.51 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 23.8% strikeout rate, and 8.5% walk rate in 47.2 innings. Sure, while pitchers will have bad outings, I think it’s fairer to judge a pitcher on the eight games where they did well vs. the two games they did poorly.
But when it comes to prospects, it’s not always about how good or bad a player did. Another factor to consider greatly is how his stuff looked. Priester’s curveball averaged out with nearly 2700 RPM of spin (coming in at 2690), which is the MLB equivalent of about the 80th percentile. His curve averaged out around 56.3 inches of vertical break and 6.85 inches of horizontal break. In terms of velocity, movement, and spin, Justin Verlander has a very comparable curveball to Priester.
Along with his curveball, Priester threw a slider with regularity. It’s another pitch with typically high spin, but with 43.2 inches of vertical break, 5.2 inches of horizontal movement, and sits in the low-80s, compared to the upper-70s his curve sits at. If Priester were in the big leagues, he’d rank top 20 in slider vertical movement.
His best off-speed pitch is an extremely low-spin changeup. Priester bottomed out at 1188 RPM on his change during his game on the 24th. This pitch hit around 28-30 inches of vertical drop and 12-15 inches of horizontal break. Tommy Kahnle of the New York Yankees throws a similar change when you look at spin, movement, and velocity.
Priester has worked on a new sinker, which he’s been favoring more than his four-seamer. Many were concerned about how his fastball would play, given that it had little action. In his most recent dominating outing, the right-hander threw his sinker 20.8% of the time (compared to using his four-seamer 18.8%).
Priester averages out with about 25 inches of vertical drop and a foot of break. If you want an example of what that may look like, take Dane Dunning of the Texas Rangers and his sinker as an example. He throws his sinker a tick slower than Priester but with a very similar movement. Adrian Houser and his sinker is another apt comparison.
Speaking of his four-seam fastball, he has still used it regularly, even if it has taken a backseat to his sinker. Priester’s fastball has about 17-20 inches of drop but has almost no horizontal break. He typically only has about 1-3 inches of break.
Granted, horizontal movement isn’t a requirement to have a good fastball. Atlanta Brave ace Max Fried typically has less than two inches of horizontal movement. Kyle Braddish throws a fastball with similar movement, velocity, and spin to Priester and has been a solid starting pitcher for the Orioles.
The only thing is Priester doesn’t have a clear and obvious path to regular starts in the big leagues, at least as of right now. The Pirates aren’t taking either Mitch Keller or Johan Oviedo out of the starting rotation. Taking Osvaldo Bido out of the rotation after his first few strong starts would be a complete disservice to him right now. I doubt the Pirates would be tempted to even think about moving Rich Hill to the bullpen.
They’d probably be more likely to trade him before moving him to a long relief role. They could demote Luis Ortiz into a bullpen role (or back to Triple-A to work on refining his sinker and changeup), but he hasn’t done terribly in June; granted, it’s not been sunshine and rainbows for Ortiz in June, as he’s still worked through the raindrops (1.56 WHIP).
If the Pirates promote Priester in the coming weeks, it would mark the third exciting top prospect promotion the Bucs have made within the last month. The first was Henry Davis, followed by Nick Gonzales. But as of right now, the Pirates aren’t in dire need of a starting pitcher at this moment. However, if Bido starts to struggle, there happens to be an injury, or the Bucs do decide to trade Rich Hill, I’d say that Preister is at the top of the list.