Pirates' Priester finishing strong in AFL

November 4th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Just hours before Quinn Priester toed the rubber for his sixth start with Surprise, he was named to the Fall Stars Game roster. The highest-ranked pitcher on hand for the fall circuit per MLB Pipeline (No. 44 overall), the achievement is a cherry on top of a season that saw the 2019 first-rounder climb as high as Triple-A, leaving him knocking on the PNC Park gates.

“I was pretty excited,” Priester, the Pirates’ No. 3 prospect, said upon finding out. “It was definitely something that I’ve been working towards, just trying to be the best player I could be. And earning that honor is definitely proof that some things are working and keep pushing hard.”

Priester earned his first Fall League victory in a 5-3 win over Salt River at Surprise Stadium on Friday, even as his afternoon got off to an inauspicious start. A notoriously tough sun field in left led to a tough-luck leadoff double, but the 22-year-old -- pitching into November for the first time -- held tough by getting the Cardinals’ top two prospects, Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn, to leave a man stranded in scoring position.

Priester had the start of his year sidetracked by an oblique issue that sprung up at the end of Spring Training. His debut was delayed until June 9, as he made one rehab start apiece for Single-A Bradenton and High-A Greensboro, before settling in atop the Double-A Altoona rotation. Across 15 starts at the level, he posted a 2.87 ERA, and bolstered by sink on his mid-90s heater, he limited opposing batters to just a 17.6% line-drive rate.

The fortification of Priester’s all-around pitching arsenal has been paramount during his time with Surprise. He has recently honed in on a slider to complement his plus-curveball, as well as adroitly deploying a changeup. His final line Friday -- five hits, two runs, two walks, four strikeouts -- belied what the righty believes was a significant step forward.

“I’m going to be completely honest: I thought today was like the best day I’ve thrown a slider,” Priester said. “There were definitely a couple that hung, but in terms of when I was throwing my good ones, it felt like I was really feeling what I need to be feeling and ripping through it. 

“The good ones I threw today, I’m going to take with me; the bad ones, I’m just going to leave ‘em here and continue to keep working on that.” 

Arguably the best pitch thrown all day was a slider that the right-hander snapped off in the first against Winn, which left MLB’s No. 51 overall prospect flailing, marking Priester’s first punchout of the day.

Making up the other half of the Saguaros’ starting battery was top-ranked Pirates prospect Henry Davis. The duo worked together three times during the 2022 regular season, establishing a camaraderie that displays tantalizing promise of things to come.

“It’s been a really cool opportunity to work with Henry,” Priester said. “We get to face this Salt River team and Jordan Walker, those guys who I’ll probably be playing a lot down the road. Just kind of our first little taste of competition now, and hopefully it’ll be a long, fun competition in the big leagues.”

The overall numbers in the Fall League for Priester (6.26 ERA) haven’t leapt off the page, but his time spent in the desert has been meant to ensure he is a potential frontline starter when the Pirates beckon. Working alongside Davis and infielder Nick Gonzales (PIT No. 5) -- both fellow Fall Stars -- gives Bucs fans a glimpse of the talented future on the horizon.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and obviously it hasn’t been the cleanest of innings, but I definitely feel like I’ve learned a lot and gotten a lot better from the competition out here and from my teammates,” Priester said. “It’s definitely been worthwhile and exciting.”