Yesterday’s Prospect A-Z featured Nationals starter Matt Purke. Purke was expected to be one of the top picks in the 2011 draft, but a shoulder injury in his sophomore year at TCU greatly diminished his stuff and his draft stock. His usual 91-94 MPH fastball and sharp slider became 81-84 MPH and flat. Statistically, he was still very good, but the talent he displayed all throughout high school and in his freshman season at TCU wasn’t there. The Nationals chose to take a risk that Purke could get his stuff back and gave him a bonus north of 4 million. Today’s Prospect A-Z will cover a less heralded pitcher from the 2011 draft class, Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush.
Kevin Quackenbush, RHP, San Diego Padres (2011: NCAA USF, A- Eugene, A Fort Wayne)
For a couple years, USF’s pitching staff was carried by Randy Fontanez and Andrew Barbosa, but for a school in a big conference in one of the most talented baseball states in the country, the Bulls were always quite average and never lived up to expectations. In 2011, Kevin Quackenbush emerged as one of the top relievers in college baseball. After an offseason arrest for a hit and run accident involving a police car put his senior season in jeopardy, he was reinstated and was USF’s best player in another dismal season.
It’s hard to determine the historic value of NCAA statistics because there are so many conferences, teams and players to look through, and college statistics aren’t widely available beyond a few recent seasons. That said, it’s clear that Quackenbush had a tremendous season in 2011, maybe better than any other reliever in college baseball. I looked through the stats of probably at least 1000 pitchers last year, and only two relievers I found had a lower ERA than him, Gabe Weidenaar, who actually transferred from College of Southern Nevada to Oklahoma State, and Austin Maddox, Florida’s two way player.
In 33.1 IP for USF, Quackenbush struck out 45 batters which was actually a small decrease from his previous season’s strikeout rate. The big change came in his command; his walk rate declined dramatically from 5.08 batters per nine innings to just 1.89, and he allowed fewer than four hits per inning too. He finished with a .81 ERA and .63 WHIP, numbers almost too good to be true. San Diego took him in the 8th round which is higher than just about every other reliever goes.
He got off to a fast start as most college senior relievers do professionally, but he was even better than one would expect. He first reported to the Northwest League where he struck out 33 in 20.1 IP while only allowing 13 hits and six walks. He was promoted to the Midwest League and still wasn’t challenged. His ERA nearly doubled, going from .44 to .84, but his peripheral stats got better. His strikeout rate increased while his hit and walk rates both dropped in a similar amount of innings. For the future, he has a chance at a middle relief role with a 90-95 MPH fastball and an improving slider and changeup.
Perhaps history is on his side. 45 players with a name starting with Q have suited up in the majors, and three of them have made All-Star Games. Two of them have been relief pitchers, the other being Carlos Quentin. One other had a solid career as a swing guy between the rotation and bullpen and became a very influential pitching coach. Can he follow in their footsteps? Becoming an All-Star seems unlikely, but he could always carve out a solid career like Chad Qualls or Jack Quinn, a starter who pitched in four different decades in the early 20th century.
Dan Quisenberry- Quisenberry was one of the league’s pioneer closers. Just 10 years after the league made it an official stat (for better or worse), he made his ML debut for the Royals in 1979. He went undrafted in 1975 which isn’t shocking considering his stuff wasn’t considered great, but I’m sure some teams wish they could do it over and take him. When he dropped his arm angle to a more submarine style before his second season, he was able to compensate for his lack of stuff and allowing deception to play up his command. In a 12 season career, he finished with 244 saves, won a World Series, made three All-Star teams and finished top three in Cy Young voting in four consecutive years, a feat that has no chance of happening in present day.
Paul Quantrill- Quantrill didn’t have the accolades Quisenberry piled up, but he had a very long, above average career out of the bullpen. It really was an unremarkable career. He only had 21 saves in 14 seasons which means he was never really more than a setup man. He even made an All-Star game late in his career, likely due to winning a lot of games as a reliever. From 2001-2004, he led the league in appearances in each season. He pitched for seven different teams but never reached the World Series. He participated in the inaugural World Baseball Classic for Canada and was a coach in the 2009 edition.
Mel Queen- Queen pitched a solid 389.2 IP in his major league career after starting his pro career as a third baseman. He was limited by injuries, but his playing career isn’t where Queen made his mark. He was influential in developing a number of Toronto homegrown players. Even though they haven’t made the playoffs since 1993, they’ve produced a number of successful players, even if that success later happened for another team. Perhaps most famously, he reshaped the career of Roy Halladay after he set a record for worst ERA in a season. He completely rebuilt Halladay as a pitcher that relied on command, movement on his pitches and a slightly more deceptive delivery. He wouldn’t be on his way to the Hall of Fame without the changes made by Queen. Brian Matusz broke that record in 2011.
Tomorrow, Prospect A-Z will feature the letter R. Will it be a solid Rangers pitcher, a potentially underrated Cardinals starter or a guy who could be the next closer for the White Sox?