Speed is back, and it is back in a big way. Although no Major League Player stole even 50 bases last season, stolen bases were up across the Minor Leagues. Reds' prospect Billy Hamilton led the resurgence, breaking Vince Coleman's single season Minor League steals record with 155 thefts. Now Hamilton ranks near the top of virtually all prospect lists and fantasy owners are giddy with anticipation for his big league debut.
There may not be a player as fast as Billy Hamilton in the minors, but Phillies' shortstop Roman Quinn comes close. The Phillies selected Quinn 66th overall in the 2011 draft and signed him away from a Florida State commitment with a $775,000 deal. Because he signed late, Quinn didn't make his professional debut until last season. He wasted no time impressing once he was on the field, leading the Rookie-level New York Penn League in steals and runs scored and hitting more than twice as many triples as any other player in the league.
His speed is far and away his best tool, grading out as a true 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Quinn is regularly clocked in the 3.8-4.0 range from home to first base which gives him the ability to turn nearly any ball in play into a hit. His speed should also give him the ability to steal 60-80 bases annually.
For fantasy purposes, the development of Quinn's hit tool will be the most important factor in deciding his future value. Last season was his first full year switch-hitting, making his success even more impressive. Hitting right-handed he utilizes a wide stance with very little stride, before unleashing a compact line-drive stroke. From the left side, Quinn tries to simplify things even more by completely eliminating his stride, but it is apparent he is not completely comfortable with it yet. His swing gets a bit longer as a lefty and he pulls with his bottom hand, causing him to swing underneath the baseball. With repetition I expect the two swings to look much more alike. It is worth noting though, that his isolated power was better from the left side (.154 vs .056), an encouraging sign since the majority of his plate appearances will come against right-handed pitching. He also displayed a mature approach for a 19-year old facing older competition, posting a 9.1% walk rate. Quinn won't be counted on to provide power, but he has surprising pop for his size and he showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields during his debut. I like the odds that Quinn becomes an above average hitter with fringe average power if he continues to improve from the left side of the plate.
The other big question with Quinn's future value revolves around his defensive position. Quinn was primarily a centerfielder in high school, so his transition to shortstop at the pro level will take some time. He made 27 errors in just 66 games last season and he needs to improve all aspects of his defense to remain at the position. The Phillies remain optimistic that he can do so though, citing that he has the arm strength and athleticism to at least become an average defender at short. When asked about his defense, Quinn's manager from last season, Andy Tracy, had this to say:
"Obviously he's going to get to a lot of balls that a lot of people don't because of his speed and quickness. He's learning to make plays from different body positions, the depth of the play through the infield, taking command of popups, everything a shortstop has to do, he was starting to get a feel for. Obviously he has to go a long way still, but he's made real progress."
The Billy Hamilton comparisons are inevitable for Quinn. Both players were second round picks out of high school, both are switch hitters that may be destined to play centerfield, and both are among the fastest players in the minor leagues. He may never steal quite as many bases as Hamilton, but with his emerging power and better chance to stick at shortstop, he may be the more valuable player in the long run. I expect Roman Quinn to have a strong full season debut this year and shoot up prospect rankings in 2014. I recommend you acquire him now, before the hype really gets going on one of the most exciting prospects in baseball.