Can Cal Quantrill Help The Colorado Rockies?
The Colorado Rockies have made their first major trade of the offseason, acquiring right-handed pitcher Cal Quantrill from the Cleveland Guardians for minor league catcher Kody Huff. In addition, the Rockies designated reliever Tommy Doyle for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
At first glance, the trade seems like a win for Colorado due to their desperate need for starting pitching. The team reached a franchise-high in number of starting pitchers used in 2023 after injuries and underperformance decimated the rotation. With two of their top pieces on the shelf due to Tommy John surgery and question marks surrounding the rest of the rotation, a low-risk trade for Quantrill makes the most sense for general manager Bill Schmidt to make.
However, there may still be cause for concern with the viability of Quantrill as a major league starter.
Drafted by the San Diego Padres in the first round in 2016 out of Stanford University, Quantrill, a native of Canada, quickly rose through the Padres system to make his debut in 2019. The following season, he made 10 starts for San Diego before he was sent to Cleveland as part of an eight-player trade on August 31, 2020, that mainly sent pitcher Mike Clevinger to the Padres. Between 2021 and 2022, Quantrill had a 23-8 record in 72 games (54 starts) and a 3.16 ERA over 336 innings with 249 strikeouts and 94 walks. He was considered one the best in baseball before he hit a bump in the road in 2023.
He battled injuries in 2023 that led to two trips to the injured list with shoulder issues. Quantrill saw a depreciation in his performance (4-7, 5.24 ERA in 99 2/3 innings over 19 starts). He was designated for assignment earlier in the week as the Guardians try to make more room for pitching and try to save money in arbitration.
The key for the Rockies acquiring Quantrill came over his final six starts of the 2023 season. In the month of September, he tossed a total of 32 2/3 innings to the tune of a 2.76 ERA (4.60 FIP) with 20 strikeouts and 13 walks. In all but one of those starts, he pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than two runs in five of those six starts. After a rough season, it was at least encouraging to see him throw out a small stretch of strong starts to finish the season on a healthier note.
But is it sustainable? That will be the question to answer in the coming season for both Quantrill and the Rockies.
In 2022 Quantrill ranked above average in almost every kind of pitching metric on Statcast. He had the most success when limiting walks, causing batters to chase pitches, and forcing soft contact. His utilization of heavy sinker usage is something that fits the Rockies’ mold of a pitcher, which then compliments his cutter and curveball usage along with split-finger. Quantrill fits just below league-average on his fastball velocity (93 mph), so he has to live or die by an ability to induce soft contact.
Despite saying they are trying to change their approach to pitching, the Rockies definitely still have a type they keep rolling out to pitch. Quantrill ranks in the bottom percentile in the league in strikeout rate even when he was healthy in 2022. He’s done a fine job inducing weak contact and has a career 42% ground ball rate, but making those numbers translate to Coors Field is going to be difficult.
In his career, Quantrill has a 1.1 HR/9, which could see a rise with the change in altitude, but by working the whole zone and executing his entire pitching arsenal, he may be able to build upon the end-of-season success and boost the Rockies rotation. He will most definitely benefit from the Rockies’ superb defense and won’t see much difference in run support, but the shoulder injuries will have to be of some concern moving forward.
It’s a relatively low-risk move for the Rockies as Quantrill enters another year of arbitration. MLB Trade Rumors projects something close to $6.5 million for 2024, and at 29 years old should he find a return to form, the Rockies could either extend him or trade him to boost their system further. The opportunity for reward is present if the Rockies can help him along his path next season.
In the end, Quantrill fills a need for the Rockies in a cheaper manner with the opportunity for a grand payoff. He fits the organization’s mold for a starting pitcher and the team has had some relative success with sinker-ball pitchers looking for some success. Thanks to the Cleveland influence the team is getting a player who is further developed at the big league level than other pitchers they may look at. He relies on finesse and crafty movement that can be successful but he doesn’t offer much in terms of variety for the Rockies rotation. Still, perhaps he can share the knowledge he gained in Cleveland with the rest of the team and improve the group as a whole.
It’s worth a try after all.