A little over two years ago, the White Sox liked Jose Quintana. Specifically, two of the team's scouts -- Joe Siers and Daraka Shaheed -- liked what they saw from Quintana while the lefty pitched for the New York Yankees' Single-A affiliate.
He had a clean delivery, good athleticism and, as general manager Rick Hahn put it, an "aptitude for pitching." So when the Yankees released him in November of 2011 and the White Sox signed him a week later, they had a decent idea of what they were getting.
The projections perhaps weren't for a solid No. 2 starter who can throw 200 innings with an ERA around 3.50, or at least to have that success come as quickly as it has for the 25-year-old. Quintana has a 3.61 ERA over 58 major league games (55 starts), rapidly ascending to a place as a rock-solid No. 2 starter behind ace Chris Sale in the White Sox rotation.
"I don't think he quite gets the national recognition for that," Hahn said. "I fear part of that is simply how the team performed last year, without a lot of reason to focus on us. And his sensational season got lost in that."
For a pitcher who was toiling away at Single-A three years ago, Quintana's rise has been meteoric yet unspectacular. As a pitcher, he's fairly vanilla -- he doesn't throw in the upper 90's, he doesn't have wicked breaking stuff and he goes about his business fairly quietly. Some brutal win-loss luck hasn't helped his national stature, either, as numerous offensive letdowns led to just a 9-7 record to pair with a 3.51 ERA in 200 innings last year.
Quintana allowed two or fewer runs in 17 starts last year, and while he went 8-3 in those he had six no-decisions.
"It's insane," Hahn said of Quintana's tough luck.
Quintana improved across the board from 2012 to 2013, striking out more batters while walking fewer. He became a first-pitch strike machine, getting ahead on the first pitch about 66 percent of the time (tied for the fifth-best rate among qualified major league starters). He threw his changeup more, showing greater refinement in that pitch.
And to show how good Quintana was at generating "bad" contact: 15.6 percent of the fly balls Quintana allowed stayed in the infield. No starter in baseball did a better job inducing pop-ups than Quintana.
The next step for Quintana, then may not be to do anything different. Of course, there's always room for improvement -- but realistically, if Quintana's the same pitcher this summer he was in 2013, the White Sox won't complain.
"He doesn't have to improve in my book," Hahn said. "If he does, fantastic. He certainly has the aptitude and athleticism and now the knowledge of the league that it's not unrealistic to expect the improvement. But if he's this guy going forward -- and by that I mean a solid, 200-inning, No. 2 type starter with a below league average ERA, his strikeouts are good, he got his walks under control -- that's a valuable guy to have.
"... Perhaps there still is room for improvement, but if he's this guy for the next several years we'll be very happy."