Pirates prospect Priester already daydreaming about PNC Park


PITTSBURGH — Quinn Priester is very much trying to live in the moment. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Not when the Pittsburgh Pirates are pointing to you as one of the key parts of a core they believe will one day return the team to contention.

So yeah, as much as the 20-year-old right-hander is well aware of how much work remains to be done before he reaches the majors, his mind tends to wander toward what could be.

“I think like anybody would, I catch myself a little bit daydreaming about playoff games at PNC,” Priester said Saturday.

Even if those dreams likely remain out of reach in the short term for both Priester and the organization. The Pirates are still in the early stages of a top-to-bottom makeover and are coming off a season in which they finished with the worst record in the big leagues. And Priester is still hoping for something akin to a sense of normalcy, namely facing batters with something significant on the line.

That wasn’t the case during 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic sent the minor league season into hiatus. He impressed at the satellite camp in Altoona and during instructional play, but it’s not quite the same, and he knows it.

“I’m itching,” he said. “Like I’m very much itching to get out there and to put all the work, especially from the offseason, and I’ll include last year, into a game environment and for it to matter towards a win and loss record.”

Where he’ll begin 2021 is uncertain, though he’s getting a taste of what potentially awaits him. Priester will start spring training at the big league camp, trying to glean what he can from more experienced players while developing a relationship with pitching coach Oscar Marin.

Marin got an eyeful during one of Priester’s outings in the Arizona Fall League. What stood out was simply the way Priester commanded the strike zone with multiple pitches. He got ahead of hitters with his curveball. His fastball — which can touch the upper 90s — worked well high in the strike zone. He drew soft contact off his changeup and threw less than 40 pitches in three innings, the kind of efficiency that’s a valuable currency, particularly for a prospect still seven months shy of his 21st birthday.

Yet Priester is careful not to get ahead of himself. Sure, he’s put on around 25 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-3 frame since the Pirates selected him with the 18th overall pick two years ago. Still, there’s still growing — both on the field and off — to do.

“I do try and watch what I eat,” he said. “Keep my eating clean and healthy and then trying to add weight that way as opposed to grabbing Happy Meals from McDonald’s.”

Priester — who says he’s around 210 pounds now and would like to add at least five more in the near future — laughed when asked if his pursuit of gaining weight means he can zip over to Krispy Kreme and crush a dozen glazed just because he can.

“Oh, the dirty bulk? No I haven’t tried the dirty bulk,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of grilled chicken, like noodles, carbs, that kind of stuff. I do try and watch what I eat. I think it’s the details that matter and the details that will help me move through the organization as fast as I can.”

Trying to predict how quickly Priester will rise through the ranks is difficult. Still, the Pirates are fine if Priester allows himself to drift to a day when he’s in the dugout at PNC Park instead of the stands.

“For (Priester) to be thinking about pitching at PNC and what he’s going to do at PNC that’s important,” manager Derek Shelton said. “You have to have a finish line, in terms of where you’re going, and once you get to that finish line, getting better every day. To have something that you’re looking forward to is extremely important.”

NOTES: The Pirates made the signing of two-time All-Star infielder Todd Frazier official on Saturday. The 35-year-old Frazier — who will make $1.5 million if he makes the team out of spring training — is automatically the oldest player on a team riddled with youth. Frazier will spend most of his time at first base, which is in need of a right-handed bat to go along with left-handed Colin Moran. “I think a right-handed bat with the ability to drive the ball was important for us and something we wanted to key on, and the fact that we were able to add a veteran,” Shelton said. “Not only a veteran guy, but if you talk to anybody about Todd Frazier, the way they talk about him is (impressive).”

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