It's not often that you can call a top-10 Draft pick an underdog. Then again, it's not often that you get a story like that of Class A Short Season Tri-City pitcher Cal Quantrill, either.
Sidelined from the game he loves for over a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2015 as a sophomore at Stanford, the eighth overall selection in this year's Draft is now embarking upon a professional career that was riddled with hurdles before it even began.
So far, through four starts and 14 2/3 innings pitched in the Northwest League, there hasn't been a hurdle high enough to slow the 21-year-old right-hander.
"It feels good, I feel like all of my pitches are coming together," Quantrill said. "Obviously it's a little different pitching on a pitch count just in terms of not being able to go deep into games, but I think I've adjusted well. It's good competition and I'm really happy with how it's gone so far."
Through Aug. 25, Quantrill owns a 1.84 ERA after allowing three earned runs in 14-plus innings. The Ontario, Canada, native has also held hitters to a .207 batting average, averaging less than one hit allowed per inning.
Perhaps his most impressive feat -- aside from battling through the minimum 12-month rehabilitation that Tommy John requires -- is his strikeout production in August. The fifth-ranked San Diego prospect has punched out 23 hitters while allowing just two walks.
"I wanted to prioritize a few different things coming back from surgery, and one of those was having better control with my pitches than I had in college," Quantrill said. "We're filling up the strike zone. I'm not afraid of contact and I'm attacking the zone and forcing them to swing, and if they can hit it, then good for them."
Not many have been able to make solid contact off Quantrill, whose father, Paul Quantrill, spent 14 seasons pitching in the Major Leagues from 1992-2005. He began his Northwest League career allowing three unearned runs in 11 innings pitched through three starts.
Perhaps his biggest moment to date came against Spokane on Aug. 10 in what he considers his best professional start. Quantrill allowed just two hits through 4 2/3 innings, striking out a career-high eight hitters while walking none.
"It was the first time I thought everything was back. The fastball was back and working, the slider was doing what I wanted it to do and the changeup was effective. It was the first time everything was happening together," Quantrill said.
Not only was it his best professional outing, but also a symbol -- of hard work, relentlessness and most importantly, hope.
"I don't know if people realized just how long it had been. I mean, a year is a very long time. It's a long time to take away that feeling," Quantrill said. "It was really exciting to have a game like that. I've been happy with how everything has gone since I've been here. Everything is coming together."
It's also a glimpse into the idea that for him, what he considers his biggest hurdle in life might actually end up being the trampoline that launches him toward his ultimate dream.
"I think I actually became a better pitcher taking that time off, as crazy as that sounds," Quantrill said. "I'm never going to tell you I enjoyed getting [Tommy John], but it did give me a chance to fix some things I wanted to fix. I think you're seeing now the value of those things that have improved during that time."
It hasn't been all fun and games for Quantrill, however. The Stanford product has been kept under extremely close wraps with the Dust Devils this month, never reaching the 60-pitch mark in any of his starts.
And while Quantrill admits to his frustrations with the heavy restraints, he understands that both he and the Padres organization have the bigger picture in mind.
"Obviously I'm not happy and I don't want to come out of the game. It stinks not being able to pitch for a win," Quantrill said. "But they drafted me because they think I have the potential to play in the big leagues, and all I want to do is pitch in the big leagues. This is what they think the best way for me to get there is, and I'm going to do everything I can within their boundaries to prove that I should and can continue to move closer to that goal."
For Quantrill, this summer's performance has been a rewarding step in what he considers to have been a "grueling" rehabilitation process. The journey is far from over; in fact, it's merely the beginning. But that hasn't stopped him from already turning heads along the way.
"I'm really proud of how it has all gone. There was talk that I was the highest pick of anyone who has already had Tommy John. A lot of people doubted the value of betting on a kid who already had a broken arm," Quantrill said.
"I'm very happy with being able to prove not only myself, but the organization right and all the people who stayed with me along the way. I'm excited that it's going well and am hopeful that it continues to go according to plan like it has from the get go."
Eugene 15: The Eugene Emeralds defeated Boise, 7-1, on Aug. 19 to set a new Northwest League record with 15 consecutive wins. The streak, which began on Aug. 5, broke the previous record of 14 straight wins, which was also set by Eugene in 2011. Over this historic stretch, the Emeralds outscored their opponents, 92-43, an average of over three runs per game. The streak came to a close Aug. 20 in a 12-1 loss to Everett.
Everett's explosion: The Everett AquaSox's offense has been firing on all cylinders in August. The Mariners affiliate has averaged over five runs over the past nine games, producing an 8-1 record over that span. Everett currently ranks first in the Northwest League in average (.278), RBIs (316) and runs scored (359), tied for first in homers (38), second in slugging percentage (.391) and third in doubles (115). Outfielder Eric Filia (third, .324) and Nick Zammarelli (tied for fourth, .310) both rank in the NWL's top five in batting average, while first baseman Kristian Brito leads the league in RBIs with 40.