LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. -- The San Diego Padres have been the worst team in baseball through the first six weeks of the season, however, the Padres’ farm system has been a bigger draw for fans thirsty for a glimpse at the future.
Cal Quantrill is one of those prospects who fans can dream on.
Quantrill, 22, was drafted eighth overall in last June’s draft, perhaps slipping to San Diego over concerns of his recovery from March 2015 Tommy John surgery. The procedure caused him to miss his entire junior year at Stanford. But he has shown no ill effects of the injury over his first full year in the Padres’ system.
The Canadian-born righty has drawn rave reviews for his fastball that can touch the mid-90’s as well as a changeup that has often been hailed as his best pitch. The hurler also has a curveball and slider he is refining.
“Since instructional league, [Quantrill] has continued to improve his changeup, which was his best off-speed pitch when we drafted him, said High-A Lake Elsinore Storm pitching coach and former big leaguer Glendon Rusch.
“His biggest improvement has been the consistency of his curveball, which he has developed as a second out-pitch. His slider is still a work in progress but is coming along as well.”
Quantrill’s arsenal of pitches was first on display to most Padres’ fans at the futures game the organization staged at the end of instructional league in front of fans at Petco Park. At the time, Quantrill talked about his desire to pitch in the big leagues as soon as 2017 -- lofty expectations for a guy who just made his professional debut that summer.
“I think last year I was really bad about ‘oh, I want to be here or I want to be there, or if I strike out the side I want to move up.’ This year I decided to take a different approach -- those aren’t decisions I make. The front office makes those decisions,” said Quantrill after a recent start.
His emphasis on not focusing on things he cannot control has seemingly put him at ease but a promotion could be on the horizon, strictly due to performance.
Through his first seven starts with High-A Lake Elsinore, the starter is 3-2, with a 3.13 ERA, while averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He is the headliner in a rotation that features fellow first-rounder Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi, who was also drafted by San Diego last year in the fourth round. The talent in the rotation enables the trio to motivate each other through competition.
“I think we have talked about it [competition with Lucchesi and Lauer]. I love being on a good pitching staff. If Lucchesi goes out and shoves seven shutout innings yesterday, I want to one-up him today. And I know that Lauer is going to want to one-up me in a few days.
“But it is friendly competition. I am pumped when they do well and I want to do the same,” said Quantrill.
Quantrill had perhaps his best professional start earlier in May, when he shut down Rancho Cucamonga for six innings, striking out 12 while walking just one. Four of the strikeouts came at the expense of rehabbing Los Angeles Dodgers, Joc Pederson and Logan Forsythe.“Getting out any good hitter is validation - it feels good. There are other good hitters in that lineup like [former Stanford teammate] Drew Jackson and D.J. Peters. Obviously, it feels good to strike a big league hitter out.”
“To me, you attack it the same way you’d attack another good hitter in this league. I was able to get them that day but I don’t think getting them [out] is a drastic difference.”
The Storm have deployed a six-man rotation this season to give their heralded prospects extra rest and to cap their innings. Quantrill threw just 37.1 innings after signing last year and the Padres’ organization has indicated they will be cautious with Quantrill's workload throughout his first full season.
“The number one thing for Cal, like any pitcher, is fastball command and once that is established everything else works off that,” said Rusch.”
“The six-man rotation allows him to have an extra day of rest in between starts, so we get a lot of work done. Fastball command on both sides of the plate is the number one priority in the ‘pen. He is improving each time in the ‘pen.
“Now we are concentrating on mental/game preparation, executing game plan and pitch sequences.”
While the coaching staff and organization is preaching command of the fastball, Quantrill has also worked relentlessly to sharpen and improve his off-speed stuff to take the next step in his career.
“I know the breaking balls are something I need to work on and I have. The curveball is becoming a very above-average pitch but overall I want to get back to what made me me. In college, high school, before the injury, I want to attack guys with the fastball, force them to hit the baseball and give my team a chance to win games. In the bullpens, I am working on increasing the value of each pitch.”
Quantrill’s progress as a pitcher should excite the front office who drafted him last year but Quantrill’s laid back demeanor doesn’t allow him to feel extra pressure.
“Every night when I pitch I try to give the Lake Elsinore Storm a chance to win and I think if I do a good enough doing that, then I will force their hand. But in terms of thinking does that increase my chances of moving up, I don’t know. I am going to let them figure that out and continue to do what I do.”