ALLENTOWN — For the first time in his professional career, Roman Quinn went to spring training thinking he had a chance. Play well enough, and maybe he'd end up on the Phillies' opening-day roster.
"The whole camp, you heard everybody was competing for a spot and I was just trying to go out there and show the new staff what I bring to the table," Quinn said.
Quinn, 24, and in his seventh professional season, did exactly that. He hit .268 with a .375 on-base percentage and flaunted his most obvious skill by stealing nine bases in 10 attempts. In another time and place, that probably would have been enough to get him a job as an extra outfielder. In today's big-league world, however, most teams carry eight bullpen pitchers, and that means one fewer bench player.
The day before the Phillies broke camp, Quinn was called into a meeting with manager Gabe Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak. The two men told him he would be starting a second straight season at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
"It was tough, but I understood where they were coming from," Quinn said. "They wanted me to come here and play every day, get my feet under me and stay healthy."
Staying healthy is the most vital thing for Quinn, who has played exceptionally well when he has been on the field the last three seasons. The problem is he has not been on the field nearly enough. Last year, his first at Lehigh Valley, he was hitting .274 with a .344 on-base percentage through the season's first 45 games when he suffered a season-ending elbow injury. A strained oblique and concussion limited him to 83 games in 2016. A strained left quadriceps ended his 2015 season after 58 games.
We could keep going back to the start of his career, but you get the point. In his seven seasons, he has averaged just 68 games per year and he realizes he has the label of being injury prone.
"Injury prone doesn't mean anything to me," Quinn said. "I look at it as though I've played really hard and gone out and given everything that I have in every game. If the results are that I get injured when I'm playing the game of baseball hard, then that's just part of the game. I can't control that. I'm not going to go play less [hard] just because I've been injured. My body is just built different. I'm a very explosive guy, and what has happened is just life."
Perhaps, but the most frustrating part is that Quinn is certainly capable of being a big-league player. First-year Lehigh Valley manager Gary Jones needed only one spring training to realize that.
"He's going to have an impact at that level with that team at some point," Jones said before a recent IronPigs game. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say that is probably going to happen at some point this year."
Joe Jordan, the Phillies director of player development, agrees that Quinn is major-league ready and just needs an opportunity to prove it.
"We obviously have a lot of new staff … and I think Roman left a great impression on them," Jordan said. "They know who he is, and they know where he's at."
As was the case with so many players during spring training, the Phillies looked at Quinn at multiple positions. There is no doubt he can be an elite outfielder, especially in center field, his most natural position. But they also gave him another look at shortstop, the position he was first placed at after being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft.
So far this season, he has played exclusively in center field, and that is fine with him.
"Honestly, I think I'm a centerfielder," he said. "I feel like I can play center field with anybody. That's just the confidence I have because of the work I've put in to make myself better in center field. I feel comfortable playing there."
He also feels as though he could play in the big leagues right now, and the Phillies do not disagree.
"I think Roman Quinn has the ability to be an everyday player," Jordan said. "I still feel that way. Again, the fact that he can play all three outfield spots is a huge plus. We'll see if playing on the dirt and playing shortstop is part of the gig in the future, but I think he's an everyday player just waiting on the opportunity.