Roman Quinn could have been playing college football this fall instead of sharpening his baseball skills in the Arizona Fall League.
The speedy, switch-hitting center fielder was a star quarterback at his Port St. Joe, Fla., high school and was offered a scholarship by Florida State. As a short but quick, athletic guy, it's not a stretch to envision a Russell Wilson-type quarterback, comparing the 5-10, 170-pound Quinn to the Seattle Seahawks star who also has a professional baseball career on his résumé.
Quinn doesn't regret his decision to forego the gridiron for a professional baseball career.
“I picked the right sport to play because football is a physical game," Quinn said. “But I do watch football a lot. It'll always be one of my loves."
The Phillies, Quinn's parent organization, are glad that he chose baseball. They drafted the 21-year-old with their second round pick in 2011, making two big changes to start his career. A high school outfielder, Quinn was moved to shortstop to begin his minor league career as well as also taking up switch-hitting.
He's moved steadily through the system, playing in 2014 with the high Class A affiliate in Clearwater where he batted .257/.346/.375 with 32 stolen bases. In 2014, Quinn transitioned back to the outfield.
Speed is a major part of Quinn's game, with some scouts grading him as an 80 runner, and he's stolen 94 bases in 221 pro games. He's continuing that success by leading the Arizona Fall League with 14 steals in the season's first five weeks.
Scouts covering the Fall League have been impressed with Quinn, as he's showing more pop than expected and is getting good jumps on balls to the outfield. How quickly he's adapted to playing the outfield after a couple of years at shortstop may have surprised some observers, but not Quinn.
“I was an outfielder my whole high school career," Quinn said. “… It took me probably about a week into the season just to get back the feel of things—the routes and where to play different hitters. After that week I felt comfortable out there."
Quinn's primary goal for the Fall League was to improve his hitting, especially from the left side since he was a natural righthanded hitter. He was also instructed to work on drawing more walks and cutting down on strikeouts. Scottsdale hitting coach P.J. Pilittere has seen a lot of progress from Quinn.
“With 'Q,' the main thing the Phillies passed along to me was just getting to be a little more consistent with his barrel control," Pilittere said. “So that's what we've been hammering with him—monitoring his swing effort, make sure he's spraying the ball all over the yard, and being the pest that he can be and not trying to do too much sometimes at the plate. He's doing a nice job."
The improvement in plate discipline is evident in the 15 walks Quinn has drawn in 21 games. He's also cut his strikeout rate from 21 percent during the regular season to 14 percent in the AFL.
The increase in Quinn's walk rate is just all part of what Pilittere and the rest of the Scottsdale Scorpions staff have stressed to him.
“It's him making a conscious effort of knowing where his barrel is at all times," Pilittere said. “… If you're conscious of just trying to barrel balls up, you can't barrel up bad pitches. I think that's really clicked home with him … it's a simple approach that he can repeat, and walks are a byproduct of not getting a pitch to hit."
Quinn acknowledged that cutting down on the strikeouts and drawing more walks allows him to take better advantage of his 80 speed, and that can only help him in the future. Like everyone else in the baseball world, he watched the Kansas City Royals advance to Game 7 of the World Series by playing “small ball."
“I liked the way they used those guys," Quinn said, referring to Terrance Gore, Jarrod Dyson and other speedsters on the Royals team. “They were a big help in them winning some of the games. I think baseball's coming back to more of the speed guys … it could play a good part for me."
While football is no longer part of Quinn's life, lessons he learned in that sport have helped him in his baseball career.
“Just the mentality of everything, going about your business the right way," Quinn said. “I'm a pretty aggressive dude, and I think football has something to do with that."
The Arizona Fall League championship game, scheduled for 3:08 pm EST on Saturday, Nov. 15 at Scottsdale Stadium, will be aired live on MLB Network.
Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel will be part of the broadcast crew for the game. With both division races still undecided, teams for the game have not yet been determined. The Salt River Rafters hold a 2 1/2-game advantage in the East Division with four games remaining, while the Surprise Saguaros head into the final week with a half-game margin in the West.