Selected with the 8th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Cal Quantrill has risen through five levels in the minors (from rookie ball to Double-A) in just a little over a calendar year. After being named to the Cal League All-Star game and representing Canada in the Futures game, the 22-year-old out of Stanford was promoted to the San Antonio Missions, posting a 3.38 ERA and a 6.1 K/9 rate in five Texas League outings.
Quantrill, son of former Major Leaguer Paul Quantrill, is a unanimous Top 10 prospect in the Padres organization, and many publications have him in their Top 100 in all of baseball. The Missions have one of the most menacing pitching staffs in all of minor league baseball, with Quantrill joined by Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi, Jacob Nix, Enyel De Los Santos, and Brett Kennedy. Though some may have better numbers than he does currently, Quantrill has the highest ceiling in the rotation, and figures to be seeing action in a Padres uniform relatively soon.
Padres Prospectus had the opportunity to talk to Cal about being drafted by the Padres, recovering from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him his last year of college, and how he feels about his season so far.
We just finished the MLB draft a month or two ago, and wanted to talk a little bit about you being drafted. What kind of communication did you have with the Padres before you became their first pick?
It was kind of unique. I wasn’t pitching prior to the draft, but I was holding some workouts and bullpen sessions. The Padres showed a lot of interest after the first one, and it kind of just developed from there. It wasn’t anything too special or too early, I just kind of fit what they were looking for, I think I was throwing some pretty good pens, and it worked out the way it did.
So, you weren’t surprised at all when you were chosen by the Padres?
No, I think that if I wasn’t hurt, I would’ve gone higher. It worked out the way it worked out, but I was happy that I got to go to the team that I preferred out of the top ten picks.
What is it that was so attractive about the San Diego Padres as opposed to the other teams?
First of all, San Diego. It’s an awesome place. I think it’s an organization where they’ve already shown with last year’s draft class that there’s opportunity if you succeed. They will move you up. They’ll push you. They’ll put you at a level where things are tougher, and I wanted that. I wanted to be challenged. I didn’t want to hang out in Arizona for too long, I wasn’t interested in having a 1.00 ERA in the Northwest League. I wanted to be pushed, and that was something that they made very clear from the get go, they’re willing to do. For me that was probably my number one thing coming out of the draft.
You had Tommy John surgery while you were in college, and there are a few pitchers in the Padres organization that have recently undergone the procedure or are recovering from it. When you come back from the surgery, what are some of the obstacles that you have to get past?
I think that a lot of people think that, you know, Tommy John surgery, you take 12 months off, and you come back and your arm feels like rubber, and you can just do whatever you want. And it couldn’t really be further from the truth. The time off is some of the hardest – those 12 months is probably the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life at baseball. And I know it sounds funny, because you’re not always throwing a baseball, but what you have to do to get your elbow back to a spot where it’s capable of holding mid-90’s fastballs for 100 pitches, it’s a lot, because now you’re speeding up something that you did for the first 20 years of your life into 12 months. That’s really what it is, you’re going from baby to 95 mph in 12 months. It’s tough. When you come back, when your arm feels good, when you finally get yourself to the point where physically you’re ready, then you have to deal with re-learning the game. And that’s something I’m still figuring out. How you can go seven innings and get out of the two jams that you get in, and manage the baseball game, get the swing through when you need the swing through or get the ground ball when you need the ground ball, that stuff all takes time to come back post-surgery. It’s not just like, you step on the mound and everything you knew in the past is just there, ready to implement. It’s something that takes time, takes starts, takes innings, and really just takes the experiences, over and over – this pitch got hit in this count in this situation by this type of hitter, next time I won’t do that. You have to get through that learning curve before you can start feeling like you’re ready to dominate a baseball game.
Coming back from Tommy John surgery, what is the most difficult to regain: velocity, command, or mechanics? Or are they all things you’re trying to get back a little at a time?
For me, so far, it’s probably been the command. Command, if you talk to a real pitcher, isn’t about not walking people. Walking people has very little to do with command a lot of the time. It’s about throwing the pitch where you want to throw it. If you’re aiming for the outside corner and you’re just leaking it over the middle every time, that’s not command, even though you might not walk anybody on the entire year. For me, that’s probably been the thing I’ve had to work the hardest at, and I’m going to continue to work at – executing pitches where I want them executed in high pressure situations. For each person, the surgery and the comeback is a little different, but for me, it’s been the touch that I had in college – one game I’ll feel it, the next game I won’t feel it. Arm feels great both games, but it’s about getting that consistent feel for the pitch. But it’s coming around now.
Speaking of college, if you were to compare college ball to the minors, how would you rank them, in terms of the quality of competition?
A lot of college coaches like to preach how college baseball is as good as a level of professional baseball. I’m not arguing in terms of a team wanting to win or playing to win a game. College baseball is as “competitive” as Double-A, Triple-A, the big leagues. But there’s a reason why not all college baseball players are drafted. Every single kid in the lowest league that we have was either drafted or signed – they’re extremely talented. So, it’s kind of a tough comparison, because even if my Stanford baseball team might’ve beat a Low-A team, the talent level wouldn’t have been the same. The idea is that once the guys who are that talented figure out how to play like a bunch of the college guys, then you have a much better team. That being said, I think that by the time you get to Double-A, for sure, I think a college team would have a very, very hard time competing. Maybe there’s a couple throughout history, but in general, by this point, you’re dealing with a lot players at least as old or older than college players with professional experience and more talent.
I know we’re not at the end of the season yet, but how would you say that everything’s going for you this season, including your promotion from Lake Elsinore to San Antonio?
I think I’ve had intermittent success. I’ve had games that have statistically hurt me – like, really bad games, here and there. But for the things that I’m concerned about, having talked to our pitching coordinators and our pitching coaches, the things that I’ve wanted to work on this year, I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better at. Would I love to go 7.2 or 8 innings every single game and strike out 15? Yes, I would. And there’s probably things that I could be doing right now where I could increase my chances of having that happen, but we’re trying to take the route that’s going to lead to long term success and success at the big leagues, and that means doing some things that I’m uncomfortable with – throwing the breaking ball in counts where I wouldn’t normally throw the breaking ball. Attacking hitters inside when I could just easily go outside. Little things, which long term, if I’m able to master that or become better at it, I think it will lead to better results at each of the following levels. But at times, I’m getting beat right now. Overall, I think the season’s been a success – I’ve done everything I wanted to do, I’ve pitched every single start that I’ve been asked to pitch in, and my arm feels good, so on that front, I’m very happy with it. That being said, I’m never really happy unless I’m 10-0 with a 2.00 (ERA). I’d say we have some work to do on that front, but for the things that are actually important the first year back from surgery, I think that I’m happy with what’s gone on.
What are the things that you’re looking for to improve on, and are those things that you’re deciding, or are there people in the organization that are helping you through that process?
It’s always a conversation, it’s not like I walk into the locker room and J.J., our pitching coach, walks in and says “Cal, you’re throwing only curveballs today.” There’s always a discussion, there’s always some give and some take. I want to go out every single game and throw 120 pitches, and that’s probably not going to be okay at level and this time, post-surgery. But I think together, the things that we’ve decided are important, from the beginning of this year all the way through, is improving the breaking ball, improving fastball command, and managing situations that I haven’t dealt with before, with good hitters at the plate. I think on those three fronts, I think we have made huge strides, but obviously, there’s still room for improvement.