Lake Elsinore, Calif. -- When the Padres drafted Cal Quantrill with the eighth overall pick last June, he helped to reset the hierarchy of pitching prospects in the organization.
Just 10 months later, he is part of an incredibly high-profile and very talented group of pitchers at Lake Elsinore to open the 2017 season. With a tantalizing mix of arm strength, feel for pitching, and experience as the son of a long-time big league pitcher, Quantrill has all the elements to become a true front-line starter in the big leagues.
We talked with him in the Storm clubhouse just prior to the season opener this week.
MadFriars: How was it to get out to Peoria this spring after your first professional offseason? How was the minicamp program and the chance to work up a bit early?
Quantrill: I think it was a unique year for me, from the draft all the way through instructs, then back to school and directly to minicamp. It felt like a quick turn-around, but I was ready for it. Spring training's long, I don't think you'll find many players who will tell you it's just a breeze, but getting there the extra week or two early was valuable for me.
There were some kinks I needed to work out. I got with some people – got back to my roots with Prior and our new strength and movement trainer [Seiichiro Nakagaki], who’s been pretty big in my development. It was good to get out there early and get some of those extra reps in, so that when spring training actually started, I felt like it was more game-time for me.
What did Nak’s work bring into your routine that you hadn’t been exposed to before?
Quantrill: I think everyone’s trying to get you to the same place – strength coach, movement coach, mental coach, pitching coach, they all want the same thing – they’re just teaching it in different ways. Nak has been a unique coach for me because you take baseball out if and we’re just going to teach movement. Powerful movements, efficient movements, so I can get the ball where I want it to go easier than I was doing it before. He made it very clear that this has nothing to do with changing your mechanics, it’s changing the way we get to the position we want to be in. Repetition, and doing that over and over again, hopefully eventually translates into your game without you even knowing it. He’s been huge. I really, really like having him here. Obviously, he’s had a ton of success in Japan and I think he’s going to bring something to us.
What's it been, two years last week since the surgery?
Quantrill: Actually, March 20th. I feel like it’s awesome – I’m almost at the point that we can stop talking about it.
That was actually going to be the question – are you at the point where you don’t have it in the back of your mind at all?
Quantrill: The only time I ever think about it is when I’m talking to one of you guys. I understand that it’s part of my past and it’ll continue to be, but in terms of going about baseball, I don’t think about it. I throw every pitch with intensity and purpose and it’s a thing of the past. I trust that I did my rehab correctly, and the surgery went well and now we’re just out there being a regular pitcher.
Obviously, you’re part of a high-profile group of pitchers out here in Elsinore. What’s it meant for you to have the time you’ve all had together as a group coming into this year?
Quantrill: Minor league baseball is kind of funny, because you are part of a team, but it’s got a lot of moving pieces. We all have the same goal – we have our individual goals which contribute to a team goal. None of us want to be here at the end of the year, but we’re all enjoying our time here and trying to win baseball games. I think this is kind of a unique team in the sense that, obviously, there’s a lot of talent, but also you wouldn’t believe the camaraderie even a couple days in. Everyone’s got a good chip on their shoulder. There’s friendly competition. Every guy in this rotation wants to be the best and all of us want to be the first one to the league. But it’s healthy and it’s good. I’m cheering for Lucchesi tonight and I want Lauer to do well – I want all the guys to do well. I just want to do as well or better. So I think it’s a really unique experience to be a part of this kind of team and I’m really looking forward to it.
How much does growing up in the game gives you a different perspective than other guys in their first full pro season, and how much do you draw on that, and how much can you share that with the other guys in the clubhouse?
Quantrill: I won’t lie. Having my dad play baseball for a long time, to me, it’s nothing but an advantage. That being said, I’m as new as – I’m newer than most of those guys in there. This is my first go-around. There’s guys on the team I’m learning from – older guys like [T.J.] Weir , [Trevor] Frank and we just got [Tyler] Barnette back. What those guys bring to the table is valuable. We have a really good clubhouse and I have a lot to learn. Obviously, I’m connecting with my dad, but I’m connecting with the front office, with all our coaches here – you talk about some experience. I’m trying just to take from everybody.
What are your areas of focus here in year one?
Quantrill: Two things that I’ve made priorities for me. I feel comfortable with all four pitches now – they’re ready for the season. The first one is consistency. I want to be able to go out every sixth day and prove that I’m capable of doing this. And I want go out and try to win every game. This is no longer about showcase or building up strength or that. It’s about going out and winning baseball games for the Lake Elsinore Storm.
And then I think the second thing I’m going to continue to work on is pitch selection, or getting back to that feeling of extreme confidence in every pitch that I’m throwing. That’s probably been the thing that’s come back the slowest. That ability to know what pitch comes next based on what you’re seeing. Maybe it’s because I took so long off, maybe it’s because the hitters are just a lot better. But, I’m working with my catchers and [Lake Elsinore Pitching Coach Glendon Rusch] to come up with a better plan in terms of this combination or that combination. It’s something that I’m still learning and I hope to get a lot better at this year.
You talk about all four pitches. Are you feeling good with both breaking balls at this point?
Quantrill: Right at the end of spring training, it clicked. There’s still a ton of room for improvement – I’m not saying they’re big-league ready, but I feel comfortable with both the curve ball and the slide. Obviously, the change-up’s always kind of been my pitch, but I’m ready to start trying to execute those pitches in times when you really need them. Instead of just going to the easy pitch – the fastball or the change-up – throwing the correct pitch and executing it. Obviously I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m hoping that I’m going to reduce those and hopefully eliminate them by the end of the year.
In terms of sequencing, how much of that is you and your catcher getting on the same page, versus how much of that is working with your coaching staff?
Quantrill: It’s a good mix in everything. Prior and Ruschie aren’t the ones out there doing it. They can give me all the advice in the world, but they’re not the ones having to execute the pitch. So, in the end, you’re trying to create a base with them, understand as a whole how baseball works. And then individually with your catcher and by knowing their lineups, come up with a game plan that works for you.
Last question; who’s the best Canadian in the room in there?
Quantrill: [Laughing] They’ve got [Josh] Naylor and me next to each other. I remember playing with Naylor – he made that team because he hit about six doubles off the wall against me. This kid walks up to the plate, I’ve got no idea who he is, he’s rocking the baseball everywhere. We ended up playing together a few years. Naylor’s a great guy; I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him. I dare people to throw fastballs against him – I think it’ll go poorly for those guys. I think we’ve got a little bit of a healthy Canuck competition. I told him I want to buy a street hockey net, so when we get to the field early, we can take shots.