CARY – The parking lot closest to Cary-Grove’s baseball field was full.
Fans filled the stands and lined a good portion of the fences down each foul line.
Behind home plate, the middle section of bleachers was packed with major league scouts who raised and lowered their speed guns in unison with each pitch the Trojans’ starting pitcher unleashed.
Quinn Priester’s pitching starts have become spectacles.
This one being C-G’s Fox Valley Conference opener, against two-time defending champion Huntley on a Saturday morning in pleasant weather, created what both teams felt was a “playoff-like atmosphere.”
The scouts, likely representing each of the 30 major league teams, filed out when Priester was taken out after 6 2/3 innings. They missed his triple to lead off the bottom of the seventh, and Priester then scoring the game-winning run on a bases-loaded, two-out walk.
They were there to see him pitch, even half an hour before the game started.
Priester (6-foot-3, 205-pounds) grabbed major league teams’ attention with his performances in high-level showcase tournaments across the country last summer. Priester signed with NCAA baseball powerhouse TCU, but is projected as a first- or second-round pick in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft in June. If selected that high, the contract may be too lucrative to pass up.
Scouts monitor every move Priester makes, watching his pregame long toss, his pregame bullpen and charting every pitch and move he makes on the mound.
“It's kind of is what it is,” Priester said. “It’s something I just have to deal with. I know that I’m kind of lucky to be in that situation and have that opportunity. So I’m just going to take it for what it is and make the most of it.”
Saturday’s game, which C-G won, 4-3, was Priester’s fourth start, and the first that Trojans coach Ryan Passaglia did not have him on a strict pitch count. Priester struck out 11, allowed seven hits and two earned runs and hit 95 mph on speed guns.
Passaglia said his team is getting used to the crowds when Priester starts.
“The very first game, against Palatine, it was a little weird,” Passaglia said. “Quinn is throwing his warmups, and there’s a ring of guys standing around him. They kind of fade into the background as you get used to it. Shoot, I’m glad it’s Quinn and not me. He’s a smooth customer. He handles that stuff great.”
What scouts are saying
John Pedrotty, the Cubs’ Midwest-area scout, has become well-acquainted with Priester and his parents, Andy and Chris. Pedrotty saw Priester frequently last summer and interviewed the family in the winter.
Andy Priester said after the football season, in which Quinn played wide receiver and defensive back on C-G’s Class 6A state-championship team, that every major league team did a home interview with the family.
“I have quite a history with him,” Pedrotty said. “Quinn’s an easy kid to talk to. That made the in-home very easy.”
Saturday’s game was Pedrotty’s second time to see Priester this season. There will be more.
“Quinn is one of the higher-tier prospects in the area, so I’ll see him multiple times throughout the spring,” Pedrotty said. “You look at everything – his athleticism, how he carries himself. You try to weigh everything – the strikes, how the arm works, how the body works. Just report what you see back to the organization and be as accurate as possible.”
Milwaukee Brewers Midwest cross checker Drew Anderson saw Priester for the first time Saturday. A Brewers area scout has seen him before, so Anderson brought a different set of eyes.
“I’m kind of going in with a fresh perspective of just seeing what exactly [Priester] can bring to the table,” Anderson said. “I’m watching everything – his athleticism, his stuff, the way he throws, how he carries himself throughout the game. You’re watching a gamut of different things.”
Passaglia and Quinn Priester mapped out his start dates before the season on C-G’s schedule. Andy Priester sent an email to the Midwest Scout group, which all teams received, so they know when Quinn will be on the mound.
If there are rainouts or postponements, Andy Priester can update the schedule and send it out again to the scouts. It was one of the things the Priesters learned about the scouting process.
The Priesters started to realize what was coming last summer when Quinn pitched against some of the nation’s other top high school players and appeared at Wrigley Field and San Diego’s Petco Park.
Priester frequently talked with scouts, some of whom coached the various teams on which he played. Later, the Priesters enlisted the services of an adviser because Quinn cannot, as an amateur, hire an agent. MLB requires high school players to have an adviser.
“He’s a really good guy and has helped us navigate these last couple of months to see what’s coming up,” Andy Priester said.
Scouts know when Quinn is pitching, but sometimes will call just to check in with how things are going.
“They’re looking at the character of the kid, his background, are there things that are happening in their life that could affect how they perform on the field?” Andy Priester said. “It is a sizable investment into somebody they’re hoping does well in the future. They’re turning over every rock to see what they can find.”
The scouts’ presence makes Priester’s starts more interesting, even for opponents.
“I told everybody to block everything out you see,” Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said. “You guys are getting a lesson in what the postseason’s about. The farther you go, the more people are going to be there. You guys have done this before. Do the best you can.”
The Red Raiders played in front of big crowds last season as Class 4A state runners-up.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Raiders first baseman Hunter Rumachik said. “It’s kind of like it is at playoff time. I tried not to pay attention to the scouts and focus on playing our game. We played a real good game.”