Maintaining the health of a pitcher’s arm is as mysterious as it is important. One of the few well established causes of arm injuries is year-round pitching starting from a young age. This is one of the key lessons taken from Jeff Passan’s book The Arm, which comes out today (you can read more about it here and here). Because of this, teams like the Rockies have to consider how worked a potential pitching draft pick’s arm is. This is particularly significant regarding high schoolers. One such pitcher that Passan profiles is Riley Pint. Pint, a right-handed pitcher from Kansas, has the chance to fall to the Rockies at the fourth spot in the draft. Passan’s book provides a glimpse at some of the things the Rockies should consider if that happens, and they need to decide on him.
There is no foolproof way for a pitcher to avoid injury, but Pint’s history suggests that he’s making strides to do just that. His self-conscious approach to the game is a major point in his favor, as it demonstrates maturity. In collaboration with his family, Pint has avoided year-round baseball. Passan writes that Pint "is the argument against specialization, a kid who doesn’t touch a baseball once the weather turns."
Doing—or, rather, not doing—this is more difficult than it sounds. It means missing showcase events that scouts attend. The showcase industry among youth baseball provides centralized viewing for MLB scouts. It’s where pitchers light-up radar guns and establish their high draft pick credentials. While his family, in particular his father, appear more open to allowing Pint to throw more, he internalized the lessons of giving his arm rest. When approached to participate in in USA Baseball’s 18 and under national team, he declined. "The lengths to which Pint went to protect himself," Passan offers, "were empowering." He needed neither a showcase nor a prestigious run with the national team to validate his talent. A pitcher with a demonstrable record of taking agency over his own health and making such decisions is an endorsement of his makeup, and might make him a solid selection in the fourth spot overall.
Pint’s confidence and ambition, however, might also make him a risky pick. First, given some of the hints in Passan’s book, it might take a bit of monetary persuasion to get Pint to sign with the slot money allotted to him. That’s because it would mean reneging on his commitment to attend LSU. Pint also told Passan that he "wants to get drafted number one overall." If he does, he'd be the first high school right-handed pitcher to ever be selected first overall. It would be "making history," but in the "fulfilled mostly arbitrary conditions" sort of way. Still, Pint's ambition might make him a difficult sign from the fourth slot.
Two additional barriers might stand in the way of drafting Pint in the fourth slot if he falls to them. First, it might be difficult to convince a high school pitcher to say no to a college commitment to come pitch in Colorado. It’s a pastime among a slice of Rockies fans to lambast the team for drafting Greg Reynolds in 2006 instead of Clayton Kershaw. What is usually left out of that story is that Kershaw would never have signed with the Rockies. He would have fulfilled his college commitment to Texas instead. (Aside: the Rockies can still be justly lambasted for drafting Reynolds instead of Evan Longoria. Carry on.)
Second, the Rockies exhibited a specific draft strategy last year that might not fit with what would be necessary to sign Pint in from the fourth slot. The Rockies drafted and signed Rodgers a full $700,000 under slot. That’s very unlikely to happen with a pitcher. In fact, from the fourth pick, they would probably have to go over. This is significant because signing Rodgers underslot allowed the team to sign their next three picks: Mike Nikorak at $300,000 over his slot, Tyler Nevin at $375,000 over his, and Peter Lambert $100,000 over slot. Not only might it not be possible to sign Pint as a number four draft pick, but doing what would need to be done in order to do so might have negative consequences for the rest of the draft. If the Rockies go overslot with their first round pick, they might have to look at easily signable players for their next few.
From now until draft day, Rockies scouts will have much more information available to them about all players. For us, and for now, we have one glimpse at one player from a recently published book. Based on this peek, it looks like Pint offers a strong makeup, especially as it pertains to awareness of his arm health. This and his profile would make him an excellent selection fourth overall. There are additional circumstances that would make him a risky pick for the Rockies, though. His college commitment and the dollars it would take to lure him away from it could be reasons to pass on him altogether. We, and they, still have two months to ponder it.