EL PASO — Jose Quezada, all of 5-foot-9 at age 26, has been told he’s too small to play his whole life. In a way, that message is the reason he is on the brink of reaching the major leagues.
“In my hometown, they had a tryout for one of the Mexican professional teams and I thought I was doing pretty well and then midway through, they wouldn’t even let me take batting practice,” said Quezada during the Chihuahuas’ final homestead of the year. “They said that I was too short to do anything and wouldn’t let me finish with the tryout.”
Instead of walking away from the game at 15, he decided to approach his baseball dream from another angle; he became an exchange student.
“I talked to my parents and we decided that I would have to go somewhere else if I wanted to keep playing baseball at a higher level.
“So I moved to high school in the United States with a host family and finished high school over there.”
One problem; he didn’t speak any English.
“Because I was so excited about baseball it made it a little easier,” smiled Quezada when asked how he overcame the language barrier. “At first, I would sit down in classes and try to follow along. For my homework, I had to do it in Spanish and then translate it into English at first.
“I just worked on getting a little better every day.”
He got better at baseball too. He earned All-District honors at Northglenn High School in Northglenn, Colorado and a chance to continue his baseball career at Howard College (Junior College) at Big Spring, Texas in the center of the state.
“I was mainly a second baseman and shortstop and played a little bit of center field as a position player. As I started to get better at pitching, I played less and less in the field.”
At Howard College, he continued his path upward with 59 strikeouts in 63.2 innings in 2015 and earned a spot on the all-conference team in 2016.
“I was going to be a two-way player before my freshman year, then I had surgery and couldn’t run. So I stuck to pitching and then I asked at the beginning of my sophomore year and my coach told me that I would be wasting my time because he thought my arm would take me a lot further.”
He pitched his final two years in college in Lubbock with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, posting 93 strikeouts against 37 walks in 74.2 innings. Quezada, whose parents earned degrees from the Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua and Tecnologico de Cuauhtemoc, also earned his degree in kinesiology with a minor in political science.
“It was always important for me to get and finish my education.”
Despite putting up solid numbers in college, too many scouts still saw him as a talented pitcher limited by his height. The Padres drafted him in the tenth round in 2018; a spot where teams are usually looking for players to take a steep discount in order to free up money for other draft picks.
“I did talk to them and they were one of the teams that were more interested in me before the draft. Mainly, I had worked so hard I really just wanted a chance.”
Quezada pitched well in his first two professional seasons, but his performance this year in Double-A San Antonio was his best. As the Missions’ closer, he led the Double-A Central league with 18 saves, striking out 53 batters in 40.1 innings, while issuing only 13 walks on his way to a 4.46 ERA.
“Just not trying to do too much,” said Quezada on his improvement this season. “Sometimes I get too excited or antsy and that is when the walks come. I worked on trying to control my emotions better and limit my thinking to one pitch at a time.”
A way to limit his emotions was just doing one thing.
“I can feel it sometimes when I’m rushing. So I usually just pick a spot in the stands and say that I have to look at it before I pitch. It’s a way to reset before each pitch.”
Despite his short stature, he is a power pitcher with a fastball that can get up to 95 mph.
“Yeah, he is a diminutive guy, but his competitive spirit is high,” laughed his manager and pitching coach Eric Judge when asked about Quezada. “He is in attack mode and he has a bit of an edge. We treat everyone the same; if you are good you go to the big leagues. He’s proven to be pretty good.
“Jose has a plus fastball, it has some riding life to it. His out pitch is his changeup, which has similar dive to what Adrian Martinez has as well. It’s a nice two-pitch mix. He also has a slider, and I think sometimes he thinks that is his second pitch – and that is fine. Whatever he has confidence in that day and uses to get outs is fine with me.
“This level has been a bit of a learning curve for him as well with the tightened strike zone and the better hitters. He’s made the adjustment and he has shined recently.”
As a Kinesiology graduate, Quezada has made the most of using what he has.
“I think it’s about using your body effectively,” said Quezada on where his power comes from. “I am not a big guy, so my mechanics are really important for me to get the most out of what I have.”
As Quezada sees it, the key going forward is to continue on the path he’s been traveling.
“Try to be a little more consistent and keep working on reducing my walks,” Quezada said on his plans for improvement in the off-season. “I am also going to work on mentally locking it in better in any situation which I am brought out to pitch.”
One thing that isn’t going to change, is that he will still have to overcome perceptions that he’s too small.
“At this point, I know that everyone here is a little bigger than me,” smiled Quezada. “I like being the short guy because it makes me a little different than everyone else.”
When asked how his life might be different at 6-foot-6, instead of 5-foot-9, the Mexican native gave a big laugh.
“On that, I really don’t know! I think it takes a little more courage to pitch when you are my size because you always have to fight and work for everything that you get.”