Phillies' minor league prospect upbeat despite injury setbacks

DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Alex Sweeney, 3 waits with his grandparents, Julie and Jay Sweeney for Phillies autographs before last night's game against Toronto at Bright House Field.
DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Alex Sweeney, 3 waits with his grandparents, Julie and Jay Sweeney for Phillies autographs before last night's game against Toronto at Bright House Field.
Posted: March 06, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The infielder was a month removed from Achilles' surgery, going about his daily rehab work and trying to keep a positive outlook.

He relies on legs. His future is largely dependent on his legs' ability to recover and become strong again.

Ryan Howard walked over to the kid last fall at the Phillies' state-of-the-art indoor training facility in Clearwater with some friendly words of advice.

"Baby steps," Howard said. "You've got to keep a positive mindset."

The kid was 20-year-old Roman Quinn, rated the top position-player prospect in the Phillies' minor league system by Baseball America only 11 months earlier. Quinn's second professional season was more than challenging: He missed the second half of the year with a wrist injury, ruptured his Achilles' in October, and, in between, watched the organization use its highest draft pick in more than a decade on a player who shares his position.

Yet, somehow, Quinn hasn't stopped smiling.

Beautiful day outside!

Minor league camp opened at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater on Saturday. Quinn is already back on the field.

Four months removed from Achilles' surgery, Quinn ran and took part in some infield drills during the first few days of workouts.

"I'm surprised," the baby-faced shortstop said. "It hasn't affected me that much . . . I'm very surprised with how fast it's gone."

"We're really pleased," said Benny Looper, assistant general manager and director of player personnel. "We don't want to get too giddy, but he's done amazingly well."

The news has been more than encouraging, as Quinn's most recent injury was potentially devastating: The pint-sized prospect's top skill is his speed. Quinn has racked up 62 stolen bases in 133 games since the Phillies selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Quinn ran on Monday at what he called "70 percent" and is confident his legs will be all the way back before long.

Last summer, only five players stole more bases in the Eastern League than Albert Cartwright, who had 26 in 128 games. Cartwright stole 16 bases in 105 games with Class A Clearwater a year earlier, in his first season since returning from his own Achilles' surgery.

"I came back in 6 to 7 months," Cartwright said. "I remember when I did it [in spring training of 2011], I didn't even know what the Achilles' was, to tell you the truth. And then the [medical] guys tell you you're out for the year, it's devastating . . . When you're speed guys and you hurt your legs, it's going to be kind of hard. You can't do what you're supposed to do."

Cartwright had wondered whether his speed would ever return. So he called Quinn last fall to offer reassurance.

"He told me a year after he was back, he was at top speed," Quinn said. "He said he felt even better."

I got to make it happen.

Quinn ruptured his right Achilles' while going through running drills in October. It was his fourth sprint of the day.

The injury that could rob Quinn of his 2014 season took place in Clearwater, where Quinn was hard at work recovering from the injury that stole much of his 2013 season.

On June 24, lanky, 19-year-old lefthander Josh Hader plunked Quinn on the left wrist. Quinn took first base, stole his 32nd base of the season, and then scored the first run of the game in the low- Class A Lakewood BlueClaws' eventual 3-2 win over Delmarva.

Quinn was removed from the game before he'd get another at-bat. He didn't play another game in 2013.

"I feel like a lot of people go through struggles in all kind of different ways," Quinn said. "So it was just my turn. I'll get my struggles out of the way early."

Quinn, labeled the 100th top prospect in baseball by Baseball America before the 2013 season, doesn't turn 21 until May 14. But he is both upbeat and wise beyond his years.

Rather than sulk, he rehabbed. Instead of getting at-bats, he watched video of the players he idolizes: Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Robinson Cano.

"I think it was a blessing in disguise," Quinn said of the injuries. "It helped me slow my game down, get mentally prepared and and become a better player."

"Players who who have gone through serious injuries and long rehabs, you can approach it a lot of different ways," Looper said. "It's probably the same with any illness. I've had cancer a couple of times, and I know the first time, you get to feeling sorry for yourself. 'Why me?' But you have a couple of choices, and you can fight your way through it. You can work at it. He's done that."

I'm making myself better.

Roman Quinn uses his Twitter account, @baseballswag4, in part as a personal motivation tool:

Beautiful day outside! I got to make it happen. I'm making myself better. Thank you Lord for another one!

Quinn is happy and he knows it - and he doesn't mind sharing it, either.

Even last summer, a few weeks before a pitch broke his wrist, Quinn kind of liked the idea of the Phillies' using the 16th overall pick in the draft to take shortstop J.P. Crawford.

In Baseball America's latest prospect rankings, Crawford ranked 78th overall. He was third on the Phillies' top 10, two spots ahead of Quinn.

"I like that," Quinn said of the team drafting Crawford last summer. "Even going back to high school, I always liked having competition."

The 5-10, 170-pound Quinn is only 3 years removed from playing at Port St. Joe High School in Gulf County, Fla. According to the state of Florida's tourism website, Port St. Joe residents nicknamed their home as "a small town with a big heart."

Since leaving town shortly after graduating high school, Quinn has begun a professional baseball career. Upon arriving in Clearwater, the teenager was asked to begin switch-hitting. And to move from centerfield to shortstop.

And then the injuries came in his second season. It all seems as if it could be a tad overwhelming.

"It is," Quinn said. "But it's all going to work out for the best."

He smiled as his teammates hit in the indoor cages on a sunny spring afternoon in Clearwater. He waited his turn.

Quinn figures he'll be cleared to step in and take his own live batting practice later this month. But since few rehabs ever go on a straight, upward line, Quinn is patient, too.

Although he'd like to be at the top of the lineup for the BlueClaws or Clearwater Threshers before midsummer, he knows it might be longer. He remains upbeat.

"[Howard] told me to stay strong, stay positive," Quinn said.

"You really don't have any other choice," Looper joked.

Along with the 62 stolen bases, Quinn hit .260 with a .347 OBP, six home runs and 14 triples in 133 games with short-season Williamsport and Lakewood in the last two seasons. Eventually, his right Achilles' will completely heal and Quinn will be able to resume his upward track as a top prospect fighting for a chance to someday replace Rollins.

"It's a long process and a long road," Howard said. "But if he's patient and positive, he'll be fine."

Nothing was ever handed to me.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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