Name: Jackson Quezada
DOB: August 9, 1986
A two-year tour in the Dominican Summer League was his introduction to professional ball after being signed on the international free agent market in July of 2003.
After posting success sub-2.00 ERA's for the Dominican Summer League Padres, Quezada skipped rookie ball and was assigned to short-season Eugene. Across 18 appearances, the right-hander posted a 4.19 ERA while striking out 34 in 34.1 innings.
A return tour with Eugene occurred in 2007. He bettered his numbers, but not significantly. He posted a 3.75 ERA across 24 innings, earning seven saves in nine chances. He was removed from the closer's role, however, when his heart and dedication during stressful times was questioned.
Coming back stronger and more focused, Quezada produced an excellent year for Low-A Fort Wayne in 2008. Instilled as the closer early in the season, Quezada racked up 27 saves in 30 chances and was called upon time and time again with the game on the line.
"Last year, he didn't pitch much the last three weeks of the season, he got hurt," Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley, who had Quezada in Eugene the prior season, said. "He pitched well, I think he had 15, 16, 17 saves for us in Eugene in a short-season.
"We were in the eight-man for the first month and half, and Jackson didn't get his first save until April 29. That makes the fact that he had 27 saves even that much greater of an accomplishment. His save percentage is outstanding. He was healthy all year. There was a stretch there, four or five days, where he pitched a lot. He led the league in appearances. He was out there a lot."
He posted a 2-4 record with a 2.12 ERA across 63.2 innings. He held the opposition to a .190 average against – fourth best in the circuit. Right-handers were limited to 15 hits in 128 at-bats, a paltry .117 average. And only one of those hits went for extra bases. He struck out 32.8 percent of the right-handed hitters he faced on the year.
In total, he allowed four extra base hits on the year and had held opponents to a .138 average and .190 on-base percentage when leading off an inning.
"Jackson just did a tremendous job," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "I think he finally realized that you he didn't need to overthrow and fall off the mound and head jerk and all of that stuff to get guys out. He did that. He was able to stay on line better in crucial situations and started throwing the slider a little bit more and changeup on occasion."
Quezada landed sixth in the league amongst pitchers with 60 or more innings pitched with his 11.17 strikeouts per nine innings. His 1.86 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was the top mark in the Midwest League and his 0.96 WHIP landed him fifth overall.
Above all, his consistency was what stood out. After a 3.72 ERA in April, Quezada notched four successive months with an ERA of 2.25 or under. Three of those months produced a sub-2.00 ERA.
Two things fell into place for Quezada during 2008. His fastball command was exceptional and his slider regained the bite it showed during the 2006 season.
Overcoming obstacles had been a stumbling block for Quezada. He would show flashes of brilliance and then hit the proverbial wall. This year, he jumped over the wall.
As a result, he was added to the San Diego Padres 40-man roster this offseason.
"We've been waiting for him to break through," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He's intelligent, got a good work ethic but something has always stopped him in the past. He would start to show some promise then hit a wall.
"This year, he had a couple of bumps, faced them down, and got back up on the right path. He found ways to overcome obstacles."
Flashing a low to mid-90s heater that has sink and late tailing action, Quezada used the pitch to work ahead in the count and consistently threw it down in the zone. He also threw his fastball inside to right-handers more than ever and opened up the outside half of the plate. The two-seamer he throws has terrific sinking action, and his ability to control it has separated his game from a season ago.
"His fastball, not only is it above average, but it also has life in the strike zone too," Bradley said. "He was very consistent. His worst outing was his first one of the year. I think he gave up three or four runs. From there on he was consistent throughout the rest of the season."
Quezada throws a slider, which has tightened up over the last year. It has solid biting action and sweeps across the zone with late break. The right-hander can bury it in the dirt and throw it for strikes. Where a year ago it was erratic, Quezada developed the pitch into a true plus offering during the 2008 season.
"His slider got much better," Bradley said. "He worked hard on that last year in Eugene. His arm speed has gotten better. He started getting outs and strikeouts with his slider. It was like 79-80. Now it's anywhere from 82-85, so that's a pitch that's going to serve him well in his future.
"He's got an above average fastball, throws a two-seamer occasionally. I told him, better leagues, better hitters, you're going to have to develop that pitch more. Pitch to those lefties with that fastball running away.
"He started working on a changeup too; in fact, he struck a hitter out in his last appearance on a changeup, a tough out from Great Lakes. Not only does he have a power fastball, but also his slider has gotten better and his changeup's gotten better. I look for him to do well down the road too."
His changeup has also improved over the last year. A non-existent entity a year ago, Quezada learned to trust the pitch more this season and it became an average pitch as a result. The progression of the pitch will be an essential tool in dealing with left-handed hitters at the higher levels.
"I don't know what his percentages were, but I know there were some low, low batting averages and runs produced," Bradley said of his work against right-handed hitters. "Usually what separates those guys, are they able to get lefties out? For him to do that, he's got to be able to pitch to the outer part of the plate with some movement on his fastball, and vary the slider, throw the slider at the back foot of the lefty, which he'll be able to do because he's now acquired better arm speed.
"It was fun to watch him and Oland come in in the 8th and 9th inning because we were pretty sure that we were going to hold the lead or maintain the tie that they were involved in."
"When you get to the eighth and ninth inning and you've got a chance to win the game, these guys are coming in there and throwing their two best pitches and getting six outs," Dascenzo said of his Oland to Quezada lineup to close out games. "That's exactly what they did all year."
Conclusion: In the past, his mental fortitude was questioned. It seemed he faltered on the biggest stage. He answered those questions this season, pitching consistently well.
Added to the 40-man, Quezada has the stuff to be a formidable reliever at the big league level. Continuing the building blocks with his secondary pitches and commanding the changeup and slider effectively will make him an even better prospect. The changeup, in particular, is essential to battle left-handed hitters.
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