The Detroit Tigers farm system was in a very different place in May of 2019 as the MLB draft approached. Matt Manning and Casey Mize reigned supreme as the only two top 100 prospects in the system. Tarik Skubal was just beginning the monster season that would see him vault up into their lofty company. The farm system seemed in pretty good shape in terms of pitching prospects, but where were the bats of the future?
With their second round pick in 2018, after selecting Mize first overall, the Tigers added a toolsy prep outfielder in Parker Meadows into a mix that included infielders Willi Castro and Isaac Paredes. Yet it wasn’t until the 2019 draft, when they took Riley Greene with their first round pick, that the Tigers seriously began addressing the offensive side of the farm system. They doubled down on bats by following Greene with the selection of University of Arizona third baseman, Nick Quintana.
Quintana was a notable prep shortstop from the Las Vegas area who was actually selected in the 11th round of the 2016 draft by the Boston Red Sox. He elected to decline their offer, and headed for Arizona to become a Wildcat.
There, fringy speed and range led them to shift Quintana to third base, where he thrived defensively. Good hands, a strong arm, and the actions of a converted shortstop all played into that success. The question then, was whether he would develop into enough of a threat with the bat to fit into a major league lineup at an offensive-minded position.
Things were progressing pretty nicely by his sophomore season in PAC-12 action. Quintana cracked 14 home runs in 254 plate appearances with a 1.005 OPS, becoming a key bat in the heart of the Wildcats’ lineup. His introduction to wood bats in the Cape Cod League that summer wasn’t particularly impressive, but Quintana returned for his junior year in good form, and posted very similar numbers. Forecast generally as a third rounder who might go late in the second round, the Tigers jumped on him much higher than that, selecting him with the 47th overall pick near the top of the second round.
This is where things started getting dicey. The Tigers sent Quintana to Connecticut for 25 games at short season A-ball level, and then he finished out the year with a 41 game stint in West Michigan. With Connecticut, Quintana certainly didn’t wow anyone, but he produced solid offense there. More concerning was his 31.6 percent strikeout rate. Still, it was a just a small post-draft sample. Unfortunately, the wheels then fully came off at the Single-A level as Quintana continued to whiff, striking out 31.5 percent of the time for the Whitecaps as well, while batting just .158 with one home run.
A post-draft slump isn’t so unusual. Quintana has only played 66 games of pro ball, so it would be hasty to start writing him off. However, the combined strikeout rate of 31.5 percent is certainly a concern, and 2020 offered him no opportunity to make a better impression. Major improvement is going to be required this year to get him back on track.
The most attractive element of Quintana’s game is his power potential. He generally draws a 55 grade on his raw power, and consistently showed good home run power to the pull side in college. Despite a few quibbles with his swing, Quintana has pretty good batspeed, with a flat stroke and a line drive approach, but it’s turning on pitches on the inner third where he made his bones in college.
Defensively, Quintana has all the tools to play a good major league third base someday. While his footspeed is below average, he compensates with a good first step and strong instincts at the position. He has quick hands and smooth actions, and should clean up anything in range, while his strong, accurate arm ties the whole defensive package together.
He generally gets the “baseball rat” moniker as a player who focused exclusively on baseball from an early age. Coaches generally seem to love him, describing him as an intelligent, hard-working, coachable young player.
The real flaw here is with the hit tool. Quintana looked quite vulnerable to good velocity and breaking stuff in West Michigan. Even in college he struck out a bit more than a future impact bat should. He has a compact swing without much lateral movement, failing to leverage much weight shift into his front side. A little bit of a hitch as he loads his hands also short circuits some of his efficiency, though that may be corrected by now.
Overall it’s a compact, rotational stroke that keeps the bat flat through the hitting zone. As we observed in West Michigan, that lack of weight transfer may cause him to open his front side too early on many pitches as he looks to pull the ball for power. Most of his contact to the opposite field in 2019 was of the routine grounder or soft line drive variety.
If the Tigers have cleaned up his mechanics we should get a better idea of the bar for future expectations with Quintana this season. Thus far, selecting him high in the second round looks like a mistake, but it’s way too early to start writing him off.
Projected 2021 team: Single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
Admittedly, this is a bit of a shot in the dark. Quintana should have seen a full season of Single-A in 2020, and as a high college draftee, should be facing better pitching at the Advanced-A level by now. It’s just impossible to know what kind of strides in his development were made over the course of the COVID year. With the Tigers committed to giving Spencer Torkelson plenty of reps at third base, presumably in West Michigan to start, Quintana can play everyday at third in Lakeland while the development staff works with him. With luck, they’ll set him up on a better path for success and he’ll jump to West Michigan sometime this summer.