It was absolutely unbelievable–no one could hit Zach Quate. He was just a 14th round pick in 2009 out of Appalachian State University as a 6’1″, 200 right-hander but blew by Short Season-A hitters in his pro debut, managing a 0.35 ERA, an 11.8 K/9, a 1.4 BB/9, a 0.0 HR/9, and 13 saves in 18 appearances and 26 innings pitched. The Rays challenged him the following season, jumping him all the way to High-A Charlotte, but it barely made a difference at all as he put up a 1.49 ERA, an 11.2 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, a 0.2 HR/9, and 25 saves in 49 appearances and 72.1 IP. Hitters just couldn’t do anything against Quate and it seemed like the Rays’ bullpen would soon await him. But since then, nothing has gone as planned for Quate.
Quate moved up to Double-A Montgomery for 2011 and didn’t have such good luck to begin the year. Through the end of May, Quate had just a 4.28 ERA despite an outstanding 22-6 strikeout to walk ratio and only 2 home runs allowed in 20 appearances and 27.1 innings pitched. But something went wrong in his next appearance as Quate, known for his control, walked 4 batters in 2 innings on his way to allowing 3 runs. From that game until July 29th, Quate’s ERA was amazing a 2.12, but his strikeout to walk ratio had slipped to just 11-10 in 18 appearances and 22.1 IP. His overall ERA was a solid 3.44 and on the year Quate found himself with a 6.0 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 38 appearances and 49.2 innings pitched, so things didn’t look that bad and maybe he had just gone through a rough stretch. But then Quate completely imploded to end the year, allowing 11 runs in just 9 innings of work with a 6-4 strikeout to walk ratio. Quate had been so good previously that something just had to be wrong. Sure enough, Quate underwent offseason elbow surgery that the Rays hoped would help him get back into form for 2012.
On May 23rd, Quate finally made his season debut for Montgomery agains the Jackson Generals. The Biscuits had hoped to ease him back into the flow, but circumstances dictated otherwise. After Mariners top prospect Danny Hultzen and Rays prospect Joseph Cruz dueled to begin the game, the contest went into extra innings with the score tied 1-1. In the 11th inning, Quate entered the game hoping desperately to keep the game tied and give Montgomery a chance to win. Quate immediately realized that he had nothing, with his fastball sitting in the high-80′s and his slider not having nearly its usual sharp break, but he battled. In 2 innings of work, Quate allowed 3 hits and 2 walk but was able to escape jams in both innings. He was rewarded with the win in the game when the Biscuits won in a walk-off. But following the game, Quate quickly went back on the disabled list, this time for a shoulder issue. He would miss the rest of the season.
This year, Quate is healthy and pitching for the Biscuits for the third year in a row. But the results have remained entirely out of whack. Quate has had his moments, striking out 2 in a perfect inning on May 2nd, the first such inning he had put up since May 16, 2011. However, he has struggled through two horrific outings, allowing 5 runs in a third of an inning on April 28th and 6 runs in two thirds of an inning on May 7th, to put his ERA at 18.90 overall. He has struck out 6 and walked 6 as well in 6.2 innings, allowing 2 home runs as well. He is just hoping for babysteps, hoping to rebuild his confidence, but it’s taking quite a while. After seeing how good Quate could be when healthy, the Rays will continue to wait hoping that Quate will eventually put it all together again.
When healthy and going strong, Quate features a fastball in the low-90′s with good late life that he throws for strikes and does a good job commanding down in the zone to force weak contact. His best pitch, though, has always been a sharp low-80′s slider from the same arm slot with tight late brake that, for a while, forced hitters to just flail endlessly. Quate has never really taken to a changeup, which had led to some struggles versus lefties, and he was probably never going to be closing out games in the major leagues. However, Quate’s fastball-slider combination was death on right-handed batters when he was on and the Rays hope that will be the case in the major leagues someday. Quate is just 25 years old now and still has potential. Now, the question will be whether he can ever stay healthy and get himself together enough to put his upside within reach once again.