"I'm cocky," says Mark Quinn. That news is about as shocking as hearing that Britney Spears lip-synchs. Hadn't Quinn declared at the Royals' camp in February, with only 17 big league games under his belt, that he would refuse a return to Triple A? Hadn't he boasted in March that he'd be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate? Hadn't he proclaimed last week that "I can hit!" Quinn, cocky? Naaahhh.
"You have to be cocky—think you're better than the pitcher, that the next pitch is yours—to do well here," says Quinn, 26, who through the end of last week was doing well enough, batting .279 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs, as Kansas City's primary DH. "I don't do anything overtly obnoxious. I sign autographs. I don't taunt the other team or toss my bat after a home run. But I know what it takes to be a hitter."
Quinn's development into a batter began at Rice, where he was mostly a DH but also played the infield and the outfield and, in his senior year, pitched (going 6-3 with a 5.35 ERA in 22 games, mostly in relief). In 1995, his senior season, he had 18 homers and 89 RBIs while slugging .708. At the '95 NCAA South Regional at LSU he became the second player ever to hit a ball to the upper row of lights on the tower behind the leftfield power alley. Bo Jackson was the first. Despite such feats, Quinn wasn't taken until the 11th round of the '95 draft because scouts weren't sure whether his pop was real or aluminum.
It took a few seasons, but Quinn proved in the minors that he could indeed hit. In 1998 with Double A Wichita, he led the Texas League with a .349 average and had 16 homers and 84 RBIs. Still, K.C. didn't call him up that September. "I was bitter," says Quinn. "That off-season, I went crazy lifting weights. I told myself I'd have to have obscene numbers the next season to show I was legit."
His numbers for Triple A Omaha were Traci Lords-obscene: a Pacific Coast League-leading .360 average, 25 homers, 84 RBIs. In September he made his major league debut, against the Angels, with two home runs and a double. He had another two homers six days later against the Mariners. In 60 at bats he hit .333 with six home runs and 18 RBIs. "That first game was heaven," he says. "It had been a constant battle to get to show the managers and personnel guys who doubted me that I was for real, that I had talent."
Talent alone will not be enough. Royals manager Tony Muser concedes that Quinn is a gifted hitter, but he has been critical of just about every other part of his game. He points out that Quinn was supposed to be K.C.'s fourth outfielder, but gaffes in the field reduced him primarily to DH. Muser also says that Quinn has been an absentminded base runner, a semihard worker and maddeningly hardheaded. "If a one-dimensional player doesn't learn some other tricks, he has a hard time surviving at this level," says Muser. Last Saturday, Quinn found out just how hard. The Royals sent him down to Omaha. Quinn didn't refuse the assignment.