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Baseball scouts buzzing about Cary-Grove pitcher Quinn Priester

Cary-Grove's Quinn Priester throws during a team practice Thursday at the high school in Cary. Priester, who is projected to be drafted as high as No. 19 overall in June, has committed to play baseball next year at TCU.
Cary-Grove's Quinn Priester throws during a team practice Thursday at the high school in Cary. Priester, who is projected to be drafted as high as No. 19 overall in June, has committed to play baseball next year at TCU.

Cary-Grove baseball coach Ryan Passaglia knows he’s going to have to talk to his team. The Trojans’ 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-handed pitcher who is hitting 93 mph on the speed gun in the preseason will generate a lot of attention.

And it won’t all be coming from the opposing dugout.

“I’m going to have to have a conversation with the kids on how to handle the days when Quinn is pitching because there are going to be scouts all over the place,” Passaglia said.

Quinn Priester’s abilities on the mound are no secret. He generated his first college scholarship offer in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, before he’d ever pitched in a varsity game. The offers snowballed, and Priester committed to TCU (a program that’s been to the College World Series four of the past five years) as a sophomore in April 2017.

That’s far from where his story ends.

Last week, ESPN senior baseball writer Keith Law projected Priester to be selected No. 19 overall in the 2019 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Fangraphs rates Priester as the No. 56-overall prospect. MLB.com omitted Priester from its top 50 draft prospects in December but mentioned him as one of five players who just missed the list.

The draft begins June 3, less than three months from now.

“It’s definitely cool and something that I’m proud that I’ve put myself in that conversation,” Priester said. “At the same time, projections are still projections.”

Passaglia can’t deny that there’s a buzz surrounding the 18-year-old.

“There’s definitely an excitement about him,” Passaglia said. “I’m not going to lie. He’s looking forward to his senior year; we’re looking forward to it; the kids are looking forward to it.”

BUILDING A TOP PROSPECT

The first scholarship offer came in June 2016, while Priester was playing with the Crystal Lake Cardinals travel program. By 2017, he was playing with Phenom Signature, a Nike-sponsored team, in some of the top tournaments across the country.

His travels since have brought him to the mounds of three major league parks (Wrigley Field, San Diego’s Petco Park and Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field).

Quinn’s mother, Chris Priester, remembers a conversation at one of Quinn’s first big-time tournaments in Georgia in 2017.

“The first questions were, ‘Who’s his pitching coach?’ ‘Who’s his long-toss coach?’ ‘Who’s his sports psychologist?’” Chris Priester said. “We don’t have any of those.”

Was Priester always a good pitcher growing up?

His father, Andy Priester, put it bluntly: “Yeah.”

“Let’s be honest,” Andy Priester continued, “he’s got some genetic gifts in terms of his height, his physical build and his wingspan. He’s always been able to leverage those pretty much in any sport.”

Priester’s parents will admit that maybe they were a little naive as to just how good of a pitcher their son could be. Although countless kids across the country shell out thousands of dollars for private lessons, Priester never saw a private pitching instructor until recently.

“He just did his thing, and he did it well,” Chris Priester said. “It never came up in any conversation that he should have additional coaching.”

In the past two months, Priester started seeing Travis Kerber at Elite Baseball Training in Chicago. They’ve been honing his skills using a Rapsodo pitch-tracking systems – the same technology big-league teams use – to analyze his pitches and a K-motion vest to analyze his body movements.

Possessing tangible data makes it easier to see the effects that minuscule differences have on a pitch.

“If I threw a good changeup, I didn’t want to just say, ‘Alright, cool, that felt good,’ but I didn’t have anything to back it up,” Priester said. “Travis helped to where, when it felt good, we would look at the video, look at the Rapsodo and see what I did on that pitch that made it a good pitch so I could replicate it.”

Kerber has been instructing baseball players for 15 years. In the past two years, Elite Baseball Training has become a lot more technology-focused. Kerber said Priester came in asking all the right questions.

"He’s a very smart kid," Kerber said. "He asks a lot of very well-directed questions. He’s got a good thought process and game plan of what he’s trying to accomplish."

Priester feels more confident in his changeup entering his senior season. It used to be a pitch he would show to mix things up, but now he feels as if it can be a pitch that produces outs.

Priester also hit the weight room as soon as football season ended. Working with White Sox director of conditioning Allen Thomas, Priester has bulked up from 185 pounds to 205 since November.

“I know that there’s still room for me to grow even more and gain more weight and muscle,” Priester said.

Priester’s fastball is hitting 93 mph now. He hopes to see it go up as he hits midseason form.

"He’s definitely ahead of where he needs to be from the standpoint of velocity, repeatability, even his secondary pitches," Kerber said. "His spin rates and his movement on his pitches is definitely above average for a guy his age."

RISK, REWARD

Priester leaped into the air and, as he had so many times during the 2018 season, and caught a touchdown pass over the top of a helpless defender.

This touchdown, in the south end zone at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, capped a 12-minute, second-half drive that essentially locked up C-G’s Class 6A state championship win over Crete-Monee, the second football title in school history.

Every game, every rep in practice, every hour in the film room led to this moment on the state’s biggest stage. And every one of those games and practices also presented the small chance that Priester could suffer an injury.

In July, Priester started the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game at Wrigley Field. The 2019 draft buzz surrounding him was gaining momentum.

Yet every college coach and every MLB scout the Priesters talked to over the years said the same thing: Keep playing football. They loved that Priester played multiple sports.

To be clear, there was never much doubt in Priester’s mind that he was going to play football his senior year.

“Ultimately, it was a pretty easy decision,” Chris Priester said.

“Most people thought we were crazy,” Andy Priester added.

The family was reassured by the encouraging words from coaches and scouts. Even though Priester missed much of summer football camp while playing baseball, the Trojans' football team welcomed him back.

When Priester hit the field Friday nights, he showcased his athletic ability as C-G’s best deep-threat receiver. He led the Trojans with 675 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

“A man among boys,” said baseball coach Passaglia, who also is an assistant football coach. “I’m really happy it worked out for him because I know it was not an easy decision to play football knowing what was on the line with baseball.”

If anything, it solidified that Priester is the real-deal as an all-around athlete, not just a pitcher. Not that anyone around C-G needed any convincing.

“When he sets his mind to something and decides he wants to do it, he’s going to get it done,” Passaglia said.

‘HE'S GOOD ENOUGH'

Keith Law started out as a writer for Baseball Prospectus in 1997 and later worked for the Toronto Blue Jays’ front office for four years before joining ESPN in 2006.

Law has not seen Priester pitch in person (although he plans to this spring), but he has seen video and has talked to scouts who’ve seen him.

“He’s athletic with a projectable body and a great delivery, with solid velocity now and a good feel to spin the breaking ball,” Law told the Northwest Herald.

Law said Priester’s performance this spring doesn’t matter in terms of his stats. What matters to pro scouts is how his stuff looks, his mechanics, his durability and his command and control.

“He’s good enough that his commitment to TCU won’t affect his draft status,” Law said.

Law’s projection of No. 19 overall is the highest yet for Priester. As Priester said, however, it’s only a projection.

“No matter what, I’ve got to come out this spring and perform to put myself in the best situation I can for whatever my next step in baseball is,” Priester said.

In 2018, each of the top 33 draft picks who signed a deal inked a contract worth more than $2 million, according to spotrac.com. Each of the top 55 draft picks who signed a deal inked a contract worth at least $1 million.

If this spring goes well for Priester, he and his family could have a big decision to make in June. If Priester were to go as high as some projections indicate, would the potential payday outweigh the opportunity at TCU?

Priester hasn’t come to any conclusion yet.

“We have had those conversations,” Andy Priester said. “As parents, it’s kind of overwhelming. As a family, our focus has been: What a great spot that he’s put himself in.”

Quinn Priester is itching to return to the mound. C-G opens the season Thursday against Palatine, weather permitting.

“Right now, my focus is going out and pitching as best I can for my team,” he said. “I just want to put myself in the best possible situation come early June and then get as much information as I can to make the right decision for me and my family.”

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