Kevin Quackenbush has the look and the swagger. A closer from his first day in pro baseball, the Padres prospect has shown he owns the ninth-inning battles that some relievers simply can't hack.
But the bearded stopper also has a softer side. He reads, he makes up riddles in the bullpen, and when it comes to the offseason, he'll probably be sleeping by the pool most days.
Quackenbush, though, has been fierce on the mound in his two Minor League seasons. He went 2-1 with 18 saves and a 0.64 ERA in 35 relief outings his first season before emerging as one of the Minors' best closers in 2012 with Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, when he finished 3-2 with a California League-leading 27 saves and a stellar 0.94 ERA in 52 games. He struck out 70 in 57 2/3 innings and then went unscored upon in nine of his first 10 Arizona Fall League appearances.
An eighth-round pick by San Diego in 2011, Quackenbush enters 2013 with a likely role closing games for Double-A San Antonio. We sat down with the right-hander to talk about his career, family and favorite TV shows:
MiLB.com: You were the Fans' Choice for the MiLBY Award this season as the best reliever in the Minors. What's it like to earn that kind of respect from fans?
Kevin Quackenbush: It's a huge honor, I never would have expected that. I was kind of in shock when I heard about it. I'm proud of it and happy to be awarded by the the fans.
MiLB: You were a California League All-Star thanks to a 0.94 ERA over 52 appearances in 2012. You led the Cal in saves (27) and opponent batting average (.205). Everyone knows the league is hitter-friendly, how did you take advantage of that aggressiveness?
Quackenbush: I really didn't change much, just did what I normally do. I used my fastball a lot and if they timed up the fastball, I'd switch to a curveball. I hit my spots and kept them guessing.
MiLB: You've really had stellar numbers now in your two seasons and you dominated in the Arizona Fall League with nine straight scoreless appearances. How much confidence do you have at this point moving into 2013 and beyond?
Quackenbush: It's been two pretty good seasons, so I'm pretty confident in my ability and pitches and stuff. I'm very excited to see what 2013 has to offer.
MiLB: Yyou were one of our high seeds in Moniker Madness this past season, but fell just short of winning it all. You beat guys like Arismendy Alcantara, Montreal Robinson and Bear Bay but lost to Caleb Bushyhead. Were you following the bracket at all?
Quackenbush: I was a little bit, my parents were keeping me updated and I looked a few times. Bushyhead (laughs) -- I played him in Oklahoma a couple times while I was at USF. That's a pretty good name, so I'm not complaining I lost to him. The guy who won I think was Rock Shoulders? And he committed to USF, so that's pretty cool.
MiLB: You must have earned some good nicknames over the years.
Quackenbush: Actually, everyone just called me Quack.
MiLB: Take me back to being drafted by the Padres, what was that day like for you?
Quackenbush: I was at the golf course relaxing, I didn't want to think about it too much. When I got the call, it was a dream come true. I was really excited and very proud and extremely honored.
MiLB: How about your time at South Florida, you set a school record for relievers with a 0.80 ERA in 2011 and pitched in the Big East championship. How great was your college experience?
Quackenbush: I learned a lot, I couldn't ask for more from coaches and the school. It was a great experience. I loved every minute there, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
MiLB: You've been closing for awhile now, but I see you threw a pair of no-hitters in high school. Do you miss starting or did you envision yourself as a closer?
Quackenbush: Actually my first appearance in college was a start, I went 1 1/3 innings. Since then, I've been in the bullpen. I love closing, I love the feeling and atmosphere of the ninth inning with the game on the line. You feel a certain adrenaline rush that I never got when I was starting.
MiLB: You hear a lot about having a closer's mentality. What goes into that? Do you personally need to have that craving for pressure or the ability to not let it affect you nightly?
Quackenbush: I think that's been the biggest part for me, not letting it affect you. Your job is to come in and shut things down. You gotta have ice in your veins and not let the pressure get to you.
MiLB: A lot of closers try to have some intimidation factor. What's yours?
Quackenbush: Nothing really. I grow out my beard I guess, that's it.
MiLB: You're out in the bullpen for seven or eight innings every day. What do you guys really talk about to pass time?
Quackenbush: We talk about everything -- music, movies, we play some games, we have riddles. We did riddles a lot last year.
MiLB: A lot of bullpens in the Minors are just up the lines in foul territory, next to the fans. Do you get a lot of kids heckling you or mispronouncing your name?
Quackenbush: Sometimes, but most of the time, the kids have nothing to say. Certain parks, there's more kids than others and you hear a little more chirping.
MiLB.com: You're from Tampa, safe to assume you were a Rays fan growing up or is that Braves territory?
Quackenbush: I was a Yankees fan. My parents are from New York and the Yankees spent Spring Training in Tampa, so I used to go to all their games.
MiLB: I have to ask about this -- I shoot football for West Point and I see your dad, Mark, played football up there for Army. Did he steer you toward football growing up, how did he influence your career?
Quackenbush: He went there for a year and left and then played at Hudson Valley Community College and then Saint Rose. I played only two years of football -- my freshman and sophomore years -- and I played the same positions as him, tight end and defensive end. He didn't push me toward football at all. He coached me through Little League and I played basketball growing up too.
MiLB: Your college bio says you enjoy watching TV, sleeping and playing video games. What are your favorite TV shows and games to play?
Quackenbush: I'm a big fan of Lost and 24, and right now I'm watching Alias. My Netflix account is getting used pretty well. Call of Duty is all I play. I haven't gotten the new one yet, though -- I don't have my Playstation with me [in Arizona].
MiLB: What kind of stuff are you up to in the offseason to get away from baseball?
Quackenbush: In Tampa, I go to the beach or pool if it's a nice day out. I like to sit around on the couch, read a book, watch TV.
MiLB.com: Speaking of TV, I always see those overly dramatic sports movies where the pitcher is in slow motion on the mound and time and sound kind of fades away. How realistic is that, is there ever that surreal sense for you in the ninth inning in those big moments?
Quackenbush: Not really, I don't get the "Clear the mechanism" type moment, but it's definitely a different feeling when you come into the game and it's on the line. Your blood is definitely pumping.
MiLB.com: Have you been able to pick an entrance song for those moments, or do teams just play something for you?
Quackenbush: The first time I pitched in Eugene, they played The Mighty Ducks', "Quack, quack, quack" song. That went over well. My song has been "Fire" by The Ohio Players.
MiLB.com: Really? Why that song?
Quackenbush: My dad was really into funk and disco music, so I grew up listening to that and thought it would be a good fit.