OK, maybe that title is not completely fair. After all, the door was already open a little bit with a pair of “opener” starts at the end of last season, and the increased workload he took on down the stretch. But with Carlos Carrasco now a Met it seems logical that 25-year-old Cal Quantrill will be a full-time starting pitcher for Cleveland next year.
He’s not a lock, though. As it stands now, the top of the rotation should be set in stone with Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale in some order. After that, Triston McKenzie figures to be the No. 4 starter for the long haul, absent any concerns about his durability. The fifth rotation spot is the one currently up for grabs and there is a lot of potential talent available to fill it.
If not Quantrill, it could be 23-year-old Logan Allen, who has bounced between the majors and minors and pitched 10.1 innings last year. A slew of pitchers that have been coming up the minors figure to debut in the next couple of years, as well — Eli Morgan, Jean Carlos Mejia, and Scott Moss headline the next batch of hurlers that Cleveland will have to find ways to squeeze into their allotted starting rotation spots or shifted to the bullpen.
For the purposes of this article — because I think he is the most interesting option and is the closest to having the job — the focus will be on Quantrill.
Following Tommy John surgery that wiped out nearly half his playing days at Stanford, Quantrill was drafted by the Padres with the eighth overall pick in 2016. He joined the ranks of San Diego with a fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider under his belt — all above-average or project to be above-average. He would eventually refine his repertoire, ditching the curveball entirely and focusing on his two-seamer, slider, and changeup.
Early in his minor-league career, Quantrill was known as a fastball-changeup pitcher, with one of the best changes in the minors, but both were virtually eliminated in 2020, where he threw them a combined 84 of his 504 pitches. A shift to the bullpen could account for this change, but he did rely on them less when he joined Cleveland in August and pitched 14.2 innings down the stretch. Just something to keep an eye on.
After a rough rookie season in which he carried a 5.16 ERA and 4.28 FIP in 23 games (18 starts), San Diego shifted him to primarily a reliever in 2020. There he struck out 18 batters, walked six, and allowed five earned runs in 17.1 innings before being sent packing to Cleveland in exchange for Mike Clevinger.
Quantrill is typically a slider-sinker pitcher, with a changeup in his back pocket to ward off lefties, but there’s more to him than that.
We didn’t get to see it a whole lot in the abbreviated 2020 season, but his two-seam sinker has the ability to produce some absolutely cartoony movement. For example, this pitch from August 2019:
Cal Quantrill, Wicked 94mph Two Seamer. pic.twitter.com/p118PUwl47— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 4, 2019
His changeup, which he used just 10% of the time in 2020, has some of the same action on it, enough to make Corey Dickerson say some naughty words on the television:
Cal Quantrill, Nasty 85mph Changeup.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 28, 2019
Dickerson's "f me" was a nice touch. pic.twitter.com/WzdjiTlV2O
He does also feature a dart of a four-seamer, but he only threw it 30 times in 2020, mostly as an out-pitch. If Quantrill is going to succeed as a starter, it’ll be on the back of his sinker-slider combo.
While his sinker — well — sinks, his slider has some vertical drop to it as well. That’s not uncommon in the ever-evolving world of sliders as pitchers reshape their repertoire to play well off one another. In Quantrill’s case, his sinking fastballs have a lot of arm-side run to them, as seen above, and they don’t sink as much as a typical “sinking” two-seamer.
To account for this, the drop on his slider has been steadily increasing. Last season he featured a slider that dropped 37.2 inches on average or 7% more than the league-average slider. That’s up from 35.2 inches in 2019, which was merely 0.7% more than the league average. While everyone else is working on slashing sliders that dart East to West to complement pure heaters, Quantrill (presumably along with his pitches coach) is adding a nice loop to his to complement his own repertoire.
Being a sinker pitcher with almost half of his balls in play going on the ground, Quantrill will also have the benefit of Cleveland’s emphasis on defense. Not only do they have the league’s best staff manager and pitch framer in Roberto Pérez behind the plate, but they seem set up to continue their steak of top-5 finishes in team defensive runs saved dating back to 2015. Losing Francisco Lindor hurts that, of course, but replacement shortstop Andrés Giménez should have no problem matching Frankie’s glove (it’s the bat we need to worry about), and Amed Rosario is no slouch on defense, either.
Now that he has reached the pitching particle accelerator that is the Cleveland organization — and picked up on some of the mannerisms of his wilder teammates — Cal Quantrill will be a fun development to watch. He’ll have the steady hand and mind of Roberto Pérez to manage his four pitches and the knowledge of no less than nine quality pitchers in the rotation and in the bullpen to learn from and fill the big shoes of Carlos Carrasco.