Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the University of Arizona campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 14: Nick Quintana
The details: Quintana is a 5-foot-10 third baseman from Las Vegas entering his sophomore season with the Arizona baseball team. Quintana surprised some when he chose to come to Arizona after being selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB draft by the Boston Red Sox. Only three of the first 328 players drafted that year did not sign and become pros, and Quintana was one of those three. Before Quintana committed to the Wildcats, he had initially committed to play at USC for a couple of years before flipping to UA. It was a major coup for Arizona, as Quintana was ranked the nation’s No. 6 overall recruit by Perfect Game Baseball and No. 2 overall in the Pac-12, while also being named both a MaxPreps and Rawlings Perfect Game All-American.
Quintana attributed his love for Arizona as a recruit to the UA coaching staff, led by head coach Jay Johnson.
“You know in all honesty, it was the coaching staff. It’s a first-class staff, they’re amazing,” Quintana said. USC “didn’t work out, with the coaches and on the business side, so I was decommitted, Jay found out and it worked out perfectly.”
The numbers: Quintana’s numbers cooled off after a blazing start to his UA career, but he still hit .293 with a .394 on-base percentage as a freshman, with six home runs, 38 RBIs and 42 runs while starting 58 of Arizona’s 59 games. Quintana is currently playing with UA first baseman Alfonso Rivas for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League, though he is struggling to the tune of a .162 average in 24 games.
Last season, Quintana committed 19 errors in his first-ever season playing third base, which was a “tough transition” he said, but he “feels good now” about where he’s at in terms of fielding.
The value: Arizona lost its best bat when JJ Matijevic was drafted by the Houston Astros, removing the UA’s best run producer from the lineup. The Wildcats also lose outfielder Jared Oliva and infielders Kyle Lewis and Louis Boyd from the starting lineup.
As a sophomore, Quintana will need to take a leap across the board, but especially in run production.
Why Quintana? For a stretch early in the season, Quintana looked like one of Arizona’s best hitters. Even though he cooled down as the season went on, Quintana’s talent is tantalizing and there’s no reason to think he can’t take the next step as a sophomore. The experience in the Cape Cod League, he said, will help.
“Every single pitcher we’re facing out here is the Friday night guy from everybody’s team. We’re facing some of the best relievers in the country from all different schools and we’re facing some of the best starters from all over the country,” Quintana said. “I’d rather be out here struggling with a good team, winning and having fun then going home for no reason. It’s definitely working out in my favor going into next year.”
Proof he’s good: The first series of Quintana’s Arizona was a doozy — he hit .571 with six RBIs against Eastern Kentucky and was selected as the Pac-12 Player of the Week. In Arizona’s first 19 games, Quintana hit .411 with two home runs, 20 RBIs and 21 runs, helping UA start the season 15-4.
He only hit .230 with 18 RBIs and 21 runs in Arizona’s last 40 games, but he still was named a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection. He hit 17 doubles, the most for a UA freshman since Jett Bandy hit 21 in 2009.
“I thought it was great,” Quintana said of his season. “I started off really well and did well during the season and I look back at the stats with my coaches and the month of May really kicked my (butt). But I mean besides that, I had a blast.”
What Quintana can accomplish: With his increased role and responsibility in Arizona’s lineup, Quintana is poised to be among the team’s leaders in a number of categories, and is a good bet for the conference’s 32-person All-Pac-12 team.
They said it: “I’ve never seen someone that young take this game so seriously. He’s an easy guy to talk to, very fun and light around the locker room, but sometimes he can be quiet just because he’s so concentrated and motivated to do well. Which isn’t a bad thing.
“I love Nick and I’m really excited to see what he can do these next two years because he’s got a lot ahead of him.” — UA outfielder Cal Stevenson
He said it: “I didn’t have any problems, no injuries — thank God — and I started pretty much every single game except one. For a freshman to do that I think it’s an amazing honor and accomplishment for me. …Yeah, I’d love to hit .350 as a freshman, but .293 is perfectly fine with me because now every year moving forward I can improve and that’s what the scouts and teams look for, improvement. I’m excited to go into next year.” — Quintana on his freshman season