The Detroit Tigers could hardly have done more to address the lopsided nature of the farm system last year. The rebuild has been predicated on starting pitching from the get-go, and that hasn’t changed; this is still a pitching-heavy farm system. Entering the 2019 season, though, their offensive corps looked far more questionable than it does now. True, some players underperformed, but as a whole, it’s much easier to have confidence in this group of prospects than a year ago.
Though the Tigers added some secondary pieces through the international market and via trade, the real boost came via the amateur draft. The emphasis in 2019 was clear: polished college hitting. Low-risk college hitters are hard to come by, but the Tigers were aggressive in targeting ones with strong statistical backgrounds and were unafraid to scoop up players falling due to various concerns about their overall ability.
Leading that group was second rounder Nick Quintana. With the most well-rounded skill set and best pedigree of the collegiate position players they selected, Quintana seemed a good bet to demolish his competition in the lower minors and follow the fast track to the major leagues. Instead, he fell flat in his first of pro ball and earned the skepticism of many fans. Still, the talents that made him a second round pick remain intact, and he will be looking start fresh in 2020.
Quintana has been on the radar since his days as a Nevada high schooler, although scouts were somewhat uneasy about his future in the field. He fell to the 11th round* when the Boston Red Sox attempted to snag him with an over-slot bonus. Instead, he decided to honor his commitment to Arizona. He hit his stride immediately as a freshman, and ended his three-year career hitting .317/.424/.565 as a Wildcat.
The Tigers drafted him with the 47th pick in the 2019 draft, somewhat ahead of where he was ranked by national outlets, but he signed for the full recommended slot bonus of $1,580,200. Detroit sent him to the Midwest League to begin his pro career, but things went badly; in a 41-game stretch, he was 64 percent below average at the dish (according to wRC+). A demotion to Low-A Connecticut yielded much better results in a smaller sample.
Because the sample size in question isn’t very large, there’s no reason to question the validity of his draft position or skill as a player quite yet. A post-draft sample simply isn’t enough to move the needle much for any player. Just sweeping our only professional sample under the rug isn’t really an option either when it’s this rocky, so let’s address both pre-draft and post-draft impressions.
*It’s common practice for teams to select a much more talented player in the 11th round than the preceding few rounds. The way current signing bonus rules are written, teams are not penalized for failing to sign a player taken after the 10th round.
The 22-year-old carries his weight on both sides of the ball, both literally and figuratively. His strongest tool on offense is his above-average to plus raw power. That raw pop comes from a combination of bat speed and muscle. An American League scout once told me he looks for “angry swings,” and Quintana’s fits that description to a tee — his intent to do damage is obvious. Even in the depths of his Midwest league slump, his bat speed was an obvious strength. Of course, it came in spurts and nothing was clicking for him for long periods of time, but when it showed up, it was downright explosive.
Benefiting from his somewhat small size, he’s billed as an excellent defender at his position. FanGraphs simply states that Quintana is “quite good at third base” and MLB Pipeline echoes that sentiment with the statement that “there’s no question he can stay at third long-term.” Baseball America is also a fan of his skill in the field, noting his “plus arm strength” works well for him. They also appreciate that his “lack of speed doesn’t show up at the hot corner” thanks to “impressive instincts.”
“Defense is just like riding a bike,” Quintana himself said in an interview with Emily Waldon of The Athletic. “You take a few reps and everything just comes back.”
The ability to lay claim to a position with such authority is an impressive step forward from his teenage years, when scouts were a bit queasy about his defensive future. Some foresaw a mediocre second baseman, and some teams even asked him if he’d be willing to transition behind the plate in an effort to hide his footspeed. Today, though, there seems to be little doubt that he’s a premium defender at the hot corner.
The biggest concern about Quintana’s overall skillset lies in his swing. It’s somewhat flatter than the angle that could maximize his power potential. As a result, much like fellow 2019 draftee Andre Lipcius, he could see an uncomfortable number of his barreled balls eaten up by the infield dirt. He also tends to open his swing a little too early, which is a trait that makes it more difficult to time his barrel correctly and renders many vulnerable to higher velocity. These aren’t unfixable issues, but they absolutely need to be ironed out if he’s going to reach his potential. Otherwise, his ceiling could be limited to a bench role without much defensive versatility, not a very valuable mold whatsoever.
Furthermore, all the things that made Quintana an appealing pick entering the draft vaporized upon entering pro ball.
For one thing, while his defense was the infielder’s most praised attribute pre-draft, he made quite a few errors in a short span of time in West Michigan. Chris Brown at Tigers Minor League Report examined a handful of those miscues to see exactly what was going wrong and whether it was a point of concern. While Brown came to the conclusion that it was not, it’s hard to argue that Quintana completely failed to demonstrate his lauded ability on the dirt. Perhaps a larger for concern is that the Low-A pitching that seemed to flummox Quintana is of a lower caliber than that he faced and conquered as a collegiate star.
Likely, all the fuss about Quintana’s struggles as a professional has been badly overblown. He’ll start anew in 2020, looking to prove himself and get back on course as a relatively polished bat with a clear path to the majors. That’s certainly not where the organization would like to be with him right now, but there’s no major cause for concern quite yet. His first full professional season will give him an opportunity to showcase what he can do on full rest against younger, less polished competition.
Projected Team: Low-A West Michigan Whitecaps
Quintana’s abysmal performance in his pro debut can’t simply be ignored — his late-season demotion to short season ball leaves no doubt. There are a lot of hungry mouths in the low minors looking for playing time on the infield dirt, but only so many at-bats to spread around. For that reason, if Quintana starts the season guns blazing, he won’t stay in West Michigan for long. But after rushing other highly drafted prospects out of Single-A with poor results (see: Rivera, Reynaldo and Morgan, Joey) we may see Quintana marinate a little longer before he goes south.