Closer Kiest Returns, Saints Sign Quintana
After falling just shy in the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes, the St. Paul Saints turned their attention to two arms they believe will help defend their 2019 American Association title. They re-signed the pitcher who closed out the championship clincher, right-handed reliever Tanner Kiest, and added a coveted free agent rookie pitcher in right-handed Matt Quintana.
The 25-year-old Kiest proved to be a huge piece to the Saints claiming the championship last season. He came over in a trade with the Milwaukee Milkmen on August 8 for two players to be named later and the reversionary rights to catcher Adrien Nieto. It proved to be more than worth it for the Saints. Kiest went 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA and nine saves in 13 relief appearances. In 16.0 innings pitched he walked 11 and struck out 25 while opponents hit just .211 against him. He was magnificent in the playoffs going 1-0 with an ERA of 0.00 and four saves in five appearances. He didn’t allow a hit in his 5.0 innings of work while walking five and striking out seven. With the Saints leading 6-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning in the championship clincher, he got a ground ball double play to end the game and give the Saints their first championship in 15 years. Kiest closed out the North Division Championship winner by striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth of Game 5 against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
Overall, Kiest went 1-2 with a 2.28 ERA and nine saves in 44 appearances. In 47.1 innings pitched he walked 28 and struck out 66 while opponents hit .213 against him. He finished 10th in the league in reliever points (25) despite not closing out a game until he joined the Saints. During the regular season he only allowed an earned run in seven of 44 appearances. Kiest went 15 consecutive relief appearances, 14.0 innings, without allowing a run from June 22-July 24 while with the Milkmen. He had seven perfect relief appearances of 1.0 inning or more and struck out at least one batter in 37 of 44 appearances.
Kiest was originally selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 27th round of the 2013 draft out of Riverside (CA) Community College, but did not sign. He attended Chaffey (CA) College in 2014 and was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round that year. Kiest was assigned to the Gulf Coast League and went 1-0 with an 8.22 ERA in nine relief appearances. In 7.2 innings pitched he walked 16 and struck out six while opponents hit .172 against him.
He went back to the GCL in 2015 and improved going 2-0 with a 4.67 ERA in 12 relief appearances. In 17.1 innings pitched he walked 17 and struck out 18 while opponents hit .210 against him.
Following his release from the Phillies, Kiest spent 2016 with three separate Independent League teams in three different leagues. He began with the Sussex County Miners of the Can-Am League and didn’t accumulate a record with a 7.50 ERA in three relief appearances. He was released in early June and signed by the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association on June 13. He pitched in just two games allowing just a hit and not giving up a run in 2.0 innings of work. He was released by the Saltdogs and signed by the Florence Freedom in the Frontier League at the end of June. He pitched in eight games for the Freedom going 0-0 with a 6.00 ERA in 9.0 innings while walking eight and striking out 15.
In 2017 Kiest pitched in the United Shore Baseball League for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers. He went 0-1 with a 3.43 ERA in 10 games. In 42.0 innings pitched he walked 35 and struck out 78. While there he caught the eye of the Minnesota Twins when he threw the leagues fastest pitch, at 99 miles per hour.
The Twins purchased Kiest’s contract and assigned him to the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2018. He went 0-1 with a 7.98 ERA in seven games (two starts). In 14.2 innings pitched he walked 14 and struck out 14 while opponents hit .288 against him.
The 26-year-old Quintana spent last season in the Frontier League, beginning the year with the Joliet Slammers before being traded to the Evansville Otters on August 12. Overall, he finished 8-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 19 starts. In 109.2 innings pitched he walked 39 and struck out 124 while opponents hit a miniscule .208 against him. Quintana finished third in opponents’ batting average against, tied for fourth in wins, fifth in strikeouts and winning percentage and was top 15 in innings pitched and ERA. He went at least 5.0 innings in 15 of 19 starts, at least 6.0 innings in 11 of 19 starts and at least 7.0 innings in seven of 19 starts. He allowed two runs or less in 14 of 19 starts and had 10 quality starts (a quality start is considered three runs or less in 6.0 innings or more). His most impressive stretch was from July 3-14 when he allowed just three runs in 21.0 innings pitched while striking out 20. Quintana struck out seven or more 10 times including double-digit K’s three times. He struck out a career high 11 twice, on May 21 and July 25. The Slammers made the playoffs and Quintana pitched in one game out of relief going 2.2 shutout innings allowing one hit while striking out four.
Quintana began his career with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League in 2017. He pitched in three games going 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA in three games (two starts). In 7.1 innings pitched he walked four and struck out eight while opponents hit .344 against him.
In 2018, Quintana joined the Empire League for the Puerto Rico Islanders where he was the Pitcher of the Year going 7-0 with a 1.32 ERA in eight games. In 51.2 innings pitched he walked 16 and fanned 75. After his incredible season the Atlantic League came calling again and he signed with the New Britain Bees. While with the Bees he went 0-2 with a 4.18 ERA in 10 games (two starts). In 23.2 innings pitched he walked seven and struck out 13 while opponents hit .300 against him. He was superb in his final appearance of the season, a 5.0 inning shutout start against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
Quintana is a graduate of Siena College where he set the school appearance record as a junior with 28. Following that year he was the MVP of the Futures League and came back for his senior season and dominated going 2-2 with a 1.50 ERA in 20 games (four starts) with two complete games and a shutout. In 60.0 innings pitched he walked 14 and struck out 64 while opponents hit a microscopic .176 against him. His 1.50 ERA was third best in school history and he finished third in K/BB ratio (2.88), tied for fourth in career saves (9), seventh in career ERA (3.31) and his 9.60 strikeouts per nine innings were eighth best.
Kiest and Quintana are the first two player signings this off-season for the Saints.
By Sean Aronson, St. Paul Saints