CLEARWATER, Fla. – Roman Quinn sat in the Phillies dugout Thursday afternoon, hanging with teammates around the top step as a 6-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees unfolded. The outfielder learned earlier in the day that he would be playing shortstop. But he would not enter the game until the sixth inning. So Quinn waited.
“I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Quinn said after he survived four innings at shortstop. “There were definitely nerves, especially with the wait. I was like, ‘I’m about to play shortstop in a game, a big league game.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’ Once I got out there, I felt real comfortable.”
The 24-year-old Quinn had just one ball hit his way. He fielded it and threw a bit low to first, but it was in time to make the out.
The Phillies told him at the start of camp that they would like to see him at shortstop, the position he played when he broke into the minor leagues. Quinn appears to be a favorite to earn a reserve role, and brushing up on his infield would improve his chances.
“I thought he looked great,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Anxious to get him back out there, get him additional opportunities. Hard to say how he looks after one ground ball, but you’d love to see 10 or 11 ground balls and then really get a good assessment under our belts.”
Quinn was a high school outfielder when the Phillies drafted him in the second round in 2011. They immediately moved him to shortstop, but he struggled with his throwing mechanics. He could not find a comfortable arm slot, and his performance showed. He made 58 errors in his first two seasons, forcing the Phillies to move him to the outfield.
He expected to return to shortstop this spring, knowing the value Kapler has placed on versatility. The Phillies will enter the season with a shortened four-man bench. It is vital that Quinn can be used, even in a pinch, as an infielder. So he started throwing last month, and his arm suddenly felt comfortable. It was like night and day, he said.
Quinn had a strong arm in the outfield and has the speed to give him the range needed at shortstop. The Phillies plan to move Quinn around the diamond this spring if he proves a quick study at shortstop.
Kapler said he agrees with first base and infield coach Jose Flores that if Quinn can play short, “it’s pretty likely he’s able to play third for us and potentially second as well. He’s such as tremendous athlete. He’s so gifted from an overall skill perspective that if we get him comfortable at the shortstop position, we’ll move on to step two. Baby steps here.”
Quinn has been hindered by injuries and has yet to play a full professional season. He injured his elbow last summer while sliding into a base. He suffered an oblique injury in 2016 and strained his quadriceps in 2015. A bench role might fit him well, allowing the Phillies to monitor his playing time and try to keep him healthy.
“I play hard, and freak accidents happen,” Quinn said. “I couldn’t tell you that I was going to tear my UCL sliding into third base. … I can control what I can control and try to stay on top of my routine, which I do all the time, and stay healthy. That’s the big thing.”
Quinn is the fastest player in camp, and his speed and surprising power, despite being just 5-foot-10, would be great weapons as a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter . He has the chance to provide a spark. Kapler has called his speed “game-changing.”
But before Quinn can change games, he’ll need to be versatile. Thursday was a start — he also drew two walks and scored a run.
“He’s starting to understand that while a three-run home run will help him make our team, help him stick on our roster, so will various other aspects of his game,” Kapler said. “His speed on the bases, his ability to put a bunt down. It’s not just pure pop that’s going to help him make the roster. It’s the on-base skills and overall athleticism. Ultimately it’s the fit on our roster. As we get closer to the end of camp, we’ll take all of those things into consideration.”