Rounding First: Nelson baseball player takes his first steps toward major league dream

Quin Hall will participate in MLB's Breakthrough Series this month.

Nelson baseball player Quin Hall is set to participate in MLB's Breakthrough Series.

Home for Quin Hall is manicured grass beneath a blistering sun. Home is sweat dripping down his brow and the feel of a broken-in glove on his hand as he waits for the ball to come his way.

The baseball field is his safe space, the place Hall is allowed to be himself.

“I just feel like I belong out there,” says the 16-year-old. “That’s what I want to do with my life. I want to move somewhere where it’s hot and baseball is an everyday thing forever.”

Baseball is Hall’s craft. Even during Nelson’s winter months, when snow covers the local diamonds, Hall is working away. There’s high school, but there’s also the gym, the net in his living room he throws wiffle balls into, the mirror he practises his swing in front of. He’s been playing baseball for eight years, but soon it won’t just be a passion. Very soon it will be his career.

Next week Hall will attend Major League Baseball’s Breakthrough Series in Tempe, Ariz. The evaluation event gives scouts a chance to see 60 high school players who don’t normally have the means of getting on MLB’s radar. Hall, by virtue of living in Nelson, is one such player.

Attending the event, which runs Jan. 16 to 18, required an invitation from an MLB team, which Hall’s family believes in his case came from the Washington Nationals. Scott Ramsay, a scout for the Nats, saw Hall when he played for the developmental club Spokane Dodgers last year and reached out to him after he turned 16 in July.

Former MLB catcher Bob Didier, who has coached Hall, said he recommended the young prospect be invited four months ago. The invite also included a call in early December from Nationals manager Dusty Baker.

Once he returns to Canada, Hall and his father, Bob, will move to the Lower Mainland later this month so he can join the White Rock Tritons of the BC Premier League Baseball, which will give him year-round baseball, better competition and exposure to MLB and college scouts.

“I want to make a bigger name for myself,” said Hall. “I just want to actually compare and look like an MLB guy so if I do get the shot at being an MLB guy they’ll be like, ‘hey, I’ve seen this guy play, I know what he can be like, I think he’s a real-time MLB guy.'”

The family had received previous requests to move Hall away to club teams when he was as young as 14, but his mother, Pam, said she wouldn’t hear it. In the end, Hall’s talent forced the family’s hand.

“It wasn’t really a decision,” said Bob Hall. “It was sort of like either do it or quit baseball. So it wasn’t really should we, shouldn’t we, it was like we’re just going to do it, bite the bullet and make it happen.”

Quin Hall plays centre field, bats left-handed, and watches the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. His favourite player is Pirates centre-fielder and former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, who Hall models his game after. At the plate, Hall prides himself as a power hitter.

“I don’t swing just to make contact and hit the ball over the shortstop’s head, a little blooper single. I like to stretch doubles and triples,” he said. “I’m fast too on the bases. Any time I can I steal. I’ll steal on almost anybody.”

The people most excited for Hall’s potential are those who have been watching and developing him for years.

Last summer Hall played for the Spokane Dodgers’ under-18 team even though he was only 15. Hall started working out with the Dodgers three years ago, but manager Jeff Simmelink decided the kid was worth a look against older competition.

“He’s a supreme talent,” said Simmelink. “There’s no question about that. He was really, really young for our team last year. We like to take young players that have talent and develop them. So we threw him to the wolves a little bit.”

Marty Lehn is the general manager of the Tritons and a former scout with 10 years of MLB experience. He’s known Hall since he started coming to a baseball camp four of five years ago that Lehn runs in Oliver.

“You can dare to dream about Quin,” said Lehn. “He’s a great kid, he’s very coachable, he’s got a passion for the game.”

In scouting terms, Lehn said Hall currently has plus-speed and plus-power. His throwing arm needs to be stronger, but it’s improving every year. Lehn also noted Hall generates great bat speed and boasts raw power at the plate.

“It’s funny. I don’t think he recognizes how good he is,” said Lehn. “He’s got a phenomenally quick bat. So I think as he matures he’ll start to realize that he can basically sit on balls a little bit more and evaluate pitches a little bit more because he is that quick to get to the bat and get the barrel to the ball.”

Didier, who played for parts of six seasons in the majors between 1969-74, echoed Lehn’s evaluation but added Hall’s personality also stands out.

“He’s always talking to other kids and applauding them and patting them on the back,” said Didier. “It’s not all about Quin, it’s about the team. He’s got a lot of attributes that could really help out if he does go far. I mean, who knows?”

All this experience has given Hall realistic expectations for his future.

He’s eligible to be drafted once he finishes high school, which is still a year and a half away, but he’s more focused for now on making a good impression in Tempe. When he joins White Rock, he’ll be working toward getting noticed by NCAA Division 1 colleges, which offer a more likely route to the majors.

“This is me taking it into my own hands now,” said Hall. “Putting it into perspective: I want to make a career out of this.”

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