San Jose, California —— The Heath Quinn you saw play in 2017 was an impostor.
Never able to sustain a healthy streak long enough to get into a rhythm, the San Francisco Giants outfield prospect saw his summer season derailed by two unwelcome stints on the disabled list, and fans never got to see the Samford University product in his true form. First, a broken hand suffered while swinging the bat at spring training robbed Quinn of the opening six weeks of his summer slate with High-A San Jose; then, in late June, a shoulder injury stuck him on the disabled list and killed the everyday-starter momentum he’d been trying to build for the short time he’d been in the California League.
“It was just one of those freak things at the end of spring training,” Quinn told Baseball Census in a phone interview late last week. “I took a swing and broke my hand. And along with the shoulder, being banged up like that, that was tough to go through with all the ups and downs. Hopefully I can stay healthy next year and perform a little better.”
When the dust settled at the end of the summer, Quinn finished with an underwhelming .228/.290/.371/.661 slash line in just 75 games (272 at-bats) — a fraction of what he’d been hoping to accomplish in his first full professional season. And for a prospect who had hit a combined .344/.434/.564/.998 slash line the summer before across three levels to mark his professional debut, 2017’s High-A campaign in San Jose just wasn’t acceptable, especially when many of his draft-class peers were enjoying 500-plus plate appearance summers and working through the inevitable grind of a healthy, full 140-game schedule.
Ironically, that realization actually posed an even bigger challenge to Heath Quinn as the summer wore on: frustrated by the stops and starts of his injury timeouts, the outfielder pressed too hard during the summer’s stretch run and saw his average plummet nearly 30 points in the final six weeks in San Jose, including a 10-for-53 (.188) skid over his final fourteen contests. By the time he looked up, the season was over, he’d missed half of it outright, and he’d wasted away another large part from stressing about the numbers.
Consider that one lesson already learned by the San Francisco Giants prospect, though.
“I started pressing late in the season because I knew I didn’t have much time left and I was trying to put up numbers,” he remembered. “You can’t really do that in baseball. You have to be patient and let the game come to you. I was trying to get too many hits in each game because I knew I was behind, and I really started to press myself to finish strong because of the time I missed in the middle of the season.”
All that produced a less-than-ideal year for the outfielder, originally taken in the third round of the 2016 draft, but there are silver linings here. For one, it’s notable the San Francisco Giants pushed him as far as they did to High-A San Jose in 2017, opting to bypass Low-A completely with Quinn just as they did with his teammates Gio Brusa, Matt Krook, Ryan Howard, and Bryan Reynolds. Injuries or not, Quinn very plainly appreciated that challenge.
“It’s nice to be able to play at a higher level pretty early, to get my career started like this,” he acknowledged. “It’s nice to know that they have confidence in me and some of these other guys, and hopefully I can keep my career moving at that pace. That’d be nice.”
The confidence is well founded, if only because of projectable flashes here and there that indicate what Heath Quinn might become one day despite his injury-plagued, forgettable summer in the Cal League. Still just 22 years old with less than 500 professional at-bats to his name, Quinn has already hit 30 doubles and 19 home runs in his first 135 pro games — an intriguing total that could push him quickly if he’s able to prove he can produce it again at higher levels. And while Quinn doesn’t quite see himself as a true power hitter yet, but it’s an aspect of his game he knows can be valuable.
“I really don’t try to hit home runs,” he said. “I just try to hit the ball hard. I believe home runs are a product of having a good approach and trying to barrel the ball up. I think that also comes with an understanding of what the pitcher is trying to do to you.”
“And that went for instructs too,” he continued, transitioning to his healthy run through the Giants’ instructional league in Scottsdale the last month. “I really just tried to take more at-bats and work on my swing and take care of some things that I felt I needed to work on. I’m glad I got to go [to instructs] to get some more at-bats, because I think it got my confidence to where it needs to be.”
And so that’s where Heath Quinn heads into the offseason — riding on a relative high note from a strong end to instructs, albeit one largely unseen by the broader media or general public who are bound to only remember his tough summer in San Jose.
That’s fair — there’s no point in sugar-coating a less-than-ideal year — but context does matter here, and with the Giants prospect, that context centers on health: if he’s fully healthy through 2018 as planned, you’re bound to see a far different Heath Quinn than the guy who took on the Cal League part-time this summer.
“Obviously I want to be better than I was [in 2017], but more than stats I just really think a fresh start will help next season,” he admitted. “I’ve been reassessing my swing, and trying to get back down to basics, and it’ll be nice to have a clean slate come spring training to show what I can do.”
“I’m going to be pretty light the next couple months through the holidays, and really try to give my body a break,” he continued. “But then when the New Year comes, I’ll heat it back up. I really want to get back to the player I was a year ago, and hopefully that’ll push me to have a good year.”
There’s no doubt the San Francisco Giants are hoping for that, too.
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