Quinn Priester knew weeks in advance that he would take the mound some time in the second half of camp to face big league competition.
“I was definitely nervous. There’s no doubt about it. [Catcher] Jacob Stallings helped a lot …” Priester said. “But no, it was good nerves. I was super excited to get out there today.”
Priester’s first Grapefruit League action wasn’t picture perfect, but it made the picture clearer of the stuff he possesses. Ranked as the No. 52 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, Priester worked from behind against most of the Orioles hitters he faced. He issued a walk and a run-scoring double, but he retired Trey Mancini on a popup and Pedro Severino on a groundout before being lifted for Chris Stratton.
While command was an issue, velocity was not. Priester sat around 96 mph and touched 97, per the radio broadcast courtesy of pirates.com. The right-hander also threw a diving curveball he’s been working on to differentiate from a slider’s movement.
“Even when I was behind, which seemed to be pretty frequently, I was able to get some outs with the fastball against some really good hitters,” Priester said, “so I can take that and learn from it, and realize I’m able to trust those pitches.”
Priester dazzled at the alternate training site last season, and manager Derek Shelton said as much about the time he got to see Priester at instructional league. MLB Pipeline writer Jim Callis said he’s had scouts tell him that Priester “could emerge as the best pitching prospect in baseball in 2021.”
So it was no surprise that the 20-year-old Priester, who has yet to pitch above the former Class A Short-Season level, was turned to for a look in game action.
“It’s not something that we take lightly,” Shelton said. “It’s something that there’s been a lot of thought into, then just spacing it out to make sure he gives himself enough time.”
The Pirates are hopeful a stream of first-round Draft picks will help lead the way as they try to develop the blueprint for their first playoff team since 2015. The Bucs took Priester with the No. 18 pick in 2019, selected Nick Gonzales at No. 7 in ‘20 and now, the club owns the first overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft.
“These are the type of people we need to bring in,” Shelton said. “We need to develop our system with guys like this.”
Getting their top prospects into game action will be key to those overarching goals for the Pirates -- not just as a litmus test for what they’re able to accomplish, but also to get them acclimated to an environment they’ve missed for the past year and change. Gonzales has yet to play a regular-season game as a pro due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Priester has yet to have a full Minor League season. Even hearing the music and the lineups before the game gave Priester a feeling he’s missed for a long time, and it gives him energy to build on his outing.
“Announcing a lineup is something that I don’t hear very often,” he said. “I’ve probably only heard it a couple of times, so being in this atmosphere is just making me want to be much, much better because, with how today went, if I want to achieve the goals that I’ve set for myself and the team, I just need to execute better.”
• Phillip Evans was scratched as a precaution from Monday’s lineup with left hamstring tightness. He was replaced by Troy Stokes Jr. in right field.
• Ke’Bryan Hayes hit his first home run of spring, taking Orioles starter Matt Harvey deep off the facing of a concession stand in left field in the first inning. Hayes, ranked as the Bucs' No. 2 prospect, is hitting .417/.462/.792 with four doubles, a triple and a homer in eight games.
• Shelton said the Pirates have started having conversations about their Opening Day starter, but the club is not ready to name who will get the ball on April 1 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“We wanted to get to March 15 and see where we're at health-wise before we could do this,” Shelton said. “We spent a good portion of the game yesterday -- between [pitching coach] Oscar [Marin], Mess [bullpen coach Justin Meccage] and I -- talking about it.”
Right-hander Chad Kuhl will get the start as the Pirates make the long trip to Fort Myers, Fla., to face the Twins on Tuesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Wil Crowe, Sam Howard, Geoff Hartlieb, Sean Poppen and David Bednar are slated to follow Kuhl. Listen to the live action via a free webcast on pirates.com.