Recent memory comes up lacking when pressed for an example of a draft quite so preordained at the very top as this season’s turned out to be. When the Detroit Tigers selected Riley Greene with their first round pick, it surprised exactly no one, and rounded out a run of five picks to open the night that went exactly as everyone was sure they would.
Greene is an excellent prospect, but that kind of draft day storyline offers very little intrigue. Fortunately, the baseball gods are an excitable bunch, and things got a lot more interesting as the first round wound down and the second began. With reports floating around that the Tigers were looking heavily into college bats, most of the speculation was that they would spring for a bat-first middle infielder. Rumors of a college infielder catching Detroit’s eye came to fruition, but the pick came down as Nick Quintana, a player that hadn’t been mentioned as a target by (m)any covering the team.
At first blush, the pick seems like a bit of a reach given where Quintana was listed on some pre-draft rankings. But what does a deeper examination reveal?
Draft day age: 21
MLB Pipeline draft prospect rank: 77th
Previously drafted: 2016, 11th round
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: 3B Nick Quintana
The biggest point in Quintana’s favor is his ability to legitimately impact the game on both sides of the ball. He was a well-known prospect as a prep player, a shortstop in high school that many saw as a second baseman. He’s a third baseman now — a transition he the moment he got to Arizona. Since making that defensive switch, he’s made huge strides with his glovework. Once seen as a defensive liability, he’s now widely considered a potential plus fielder. That’s a testament to his outstanding work ethic and coachability, both of which were praised highly as a prep prospect.
Quintana also compliments his defensive work with an excellent arm for the position. He pairs sheer arm strength with the ability to make accurate throws while on the run. Moreover, he’s frequently applauded for his unimpeachable instincts at the position. He makes plays with confidence and takes a quick first step, helping him overcome unimpressive range and running speed. The sum of those parts is a very good defensive third baseman.
His biggest strength, however, is his power in the batters’ box. That’s the big draw here: Nick Quintana can really swing it. His numbers with the Wildcats are pretty impressive; hitting .346/.469/.630 on the season. A staggering 43.06 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases. Those figures tally to an isolated slugging mark of .284, or, really good.
Evaluators believe that, while he obviously won’t keep hitting like Ted Williams as a professional, the tools are there to support good offensive performance. FanGraphs calls Quintana “an athletic swinger with power” and Baseball America notes that “above-average raw power” solidifies his game. The corner infielder derives his power from good bat speed — not hulking musculature — and that encourages scouts that he’ll be able to maintain his power and improve on what he’s already shown once under pro instruction.
In short, there’s plenty of pop in Quintana’s bat, which could make him a middle-of-the-order hitter at the highest level if it all comes together.
Quintana isn’t a fast runner, and it’s the biggest knock on the physical part of his profile. As we discussed earlier, it isn’t much of a detriment to his defensive actions at third base, but it is what facilitated his move to the hot corner in the first place. Not rangy enough to play at short, don’t expect to see him beat out too many ground balls, either. He’s simply not fast enough.
Fortunately, evaluators don’t make a big deal out of his running speed, or lack thereof. It’s not as if he’s going to stop the show with painfully long home-to-first times. Quintana’s expected performance shouldn’t be impacted terribly much by this shortcoming at all. Sluggers are rarely very quick to begin with, and his reflexes should be more than enough to compensate for the lack in this area.
The bigger problem is his propensity for whiffs in the batters’ box. Quintana comes tied to a career 20.03 percent strikeout rate in three years at Arizona — a modest rate by today’s MLB standards, but higher than one would like to see from an advanced college star. It’s an issue that springs from his sometimes overly pull-happy approach, according to MLB Pipeline. While his slow footspeed may not present a long-term roadblock, this does.
Because Quintana relies on his power to make an offensive contribution. That power is a real threat when he makes contact, which is what got him drafted. It goes without saying, though, that his power is utterly neutralized when he cannot put the bat on the ball. It’s a problem that Detroit’s developmental staff will be working with him on from day one.