Look, we’ve all gotten swept up in premature excitement charged by a fast start to the season or unsustainable success during spring training. Remember, these meaningless games, record notwithstanding, are meant to generate buzz for upcoming prospects, new signees and random players. Yu Chang would have been an MVP-caliber player if spring training counted. It typically fades away as the player’s tendencies and flaws become more exposed and pounced on by opposing pitchers, but it’s fun fodder for discussion and hypothetical scenarios.
Roman Quinn is the latest iteration of a player on a minor-league contract tearing up the early days of spring training. He’s a journeyman, plagued by a career full of injuries after choosing to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies as a second-round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. His unique batting stance combined with his blazing speed with the Williamsport Crosscutters led to local reporters calling him the “Human Highlight Reel.”
But Quinn’s career trajectory has been stifled, then nearly ended by more injuries than most. A hairline fracture followed by a ruptured Achilles lost him nearly a year of playing time from 2013-14. Then a torn hip flexor and an abdominal oblique strain hindered his comeback, as well as a concussion that delayed his eventual major-league debut in 2016. After just 16 major-league games with the Phillies, he suffered an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament, followed by a torn ligament after getting demoted to Triple-A and playing the rest of the season with a broken toe.
Quinn likely could have had a solid career as a center fielder and speedy slap hitter had he not suffered such terrible injury luck. The injury-riddled, 29-year old player signed with the Cleveland Guardians in January to a minor-league contract that included an invite to spring training after splitting last year between Philadelphia, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Now, out of nowhere, Quinn has become the best hitter in the Guardians lineup, collecting three home runs over the weekend, 37% of his major-league round-trippers.
There’s a very unlikely chance Quinn breaks onto the 40-man roster, or even the major-league roster, both places that have forced the Guardians’ front office to make snap decisions about certain fringe major-league players such as Nolan Jones or Will Benson. Adding another outfielder to the mix, one that includes WIll Brennan, Richie Palacios and George Valera - among others - is probably not what the Guardians want to do. Set aside the fact that Quinn is about to be 30, injury-prone, and even during his .262/.340/.405 streak last year through 47 plate appearances, he also had a 44.7% strikeout rate.
Cleveland also would likely want to keep that final spot on the 40-man roster for a third catcher, and wouldn’t want to designate for assignment someone unless a reliever really proves unworthy of a 40-man spot. Still, if Quinn can keep up this insane pace, or even show that he can become a competent hitter throughout the next month, he’s worth keeping. Someone on the 40-man roster is bound to get injured or fall out of favor of the major-league roster. Quinn, waiting patiently - and healthily - in the wings at Columbus, could be next in line to be called up and provide a solid innings-eater at the bottom of Cleveland’s lineup.
Alright, fine, the logic is out of the way. Now, imagine for a second, Quinn, who has been waiting for 12 years for his breakthrough, keeps this pace going. The rosters begin to trim, and he’s still mashing taters at an unprecedented pace against strictly major-league pitching. Suddenly, the Guardians see him as a viable option. Maybe Palacios isn’t worth that roster spot. Quinn provides pop at the bottom of the lineup and can be platooned with... Myles Straw? With the bigger bases and new pickoff rule, Quinn flashes his speed with steals and turns seeing-eye singles into doubles.
He becomes the next, like, actually good outfielder the Guardians took a flier on that turned into a key contributor. Hey, it’s baseball, there’s always a chance.