READING - One of the problems with the last five to 10 Phillies drafts under Marti Wolever was a sort of halo effect that seemed to infect the team's evaluations of its draftees. Instead of focusing on the type of player an athlete was likely to become, they focused on the type of player they hoped he would become. More often than not, that left them holding an empty bag of tools.
For a couple of years, it looked like Roman Quinn would end up as another one of those picks. But after struggling with injuries and a position change, the organization's onetime top hitting prospect has put himself back on the radar and is in the midst of a sizzling start to the Double A season.
"I feel like I'm back," Quinn said yesterday as he stood in front of the home dugout at First Energy tadium.
In some ways, Quinn is still the quintessential late-2000s Phillies prospect, a player whose future leans heavily on the word "if."
If he can continue to add muscle to his 5-10, 170-pound frame . . .
If that muscle can create a sustainability of the gap power he has displayed in the first couple of weeks of the season . . .
If he can add a little more contact at the expense of some strikeouts . . .
In other words, a lot of ifs. But the fact that Quinn is even in a position to warrant such hypotheticals makes him an intriguing exception to what had developed into a disconcerting rule regarding Phillies' high school draft picks. The same year they drafted Quinn in the second round out of Port St. Joe (Fla.) High, in 2011, the club used its No. 1 pick on high school slugger Larry Greene, who is currently out of baseball. Of the four high school players they selected in the first two rounds of the 2008 draft, none is still with the organization, three have never played above Double A, and two are out of baseball. Kelly Dugan, Kyrell Hudson, Shane Watson, Mitch Gueller - the list is long and undistinguished.
So even though nobody is penciling in Quinn as the Phillies' centerfielder of the future, he is still one of the few hitting prospects worth monitoring in the system. Almost 22, he still has yet to play a full minor league season. He spent the first month-and-a-half of 2014 finishing up recovering from an offseason Achilles' injury and he missed significant time in 2013 with a broken wrist. Even when he was healthy, Quinn was attempting to learn both a new position and a new hitting stroke as the Phillies attempted to turn him into a switch-hitting shortstop. The position change did not stick, and Quinn is now back in centerfield ("I feel like I'm back home," he said). The hitting, however, has started to come around. The first time Quinn tried to hit lefthanded, he said he felt like he was throwing a ball with his non-dominant hand.
"I didn't know how to stand in the box, I didn't know how to hold the bat," Quinn said.
Last year, he batted just .227/.323/.349 from the left side of the plate compared with .327/.391/.418 from the right side. This year, he is 14-for-27 with five extra-base hits, three walks and one home run from the left side.
Quinn still has plenty of work to do, both defensively (he dropped a routine fly ball last night in a loss to Akron), and at the plate (he struck out in his first two plate appearances). But his plus speed and ability to reach base are two big assets that have staying power.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of Quinn's game is his walk rate, a facet that is sometimes lacking in small players with his skill set. Ben Revere's walk rate was 6.9 percent in the minors. Odubel Herrera's was 7.6 percent. Quinn entered last night with a career walk rate of 9.3 percent. He had walked five times in 47 plate appearances this season.
More than anything, Quinn is worth watching because he finally seems to be at a point where he can focus on his development at the plate and in the field.