The Rockies Single-A team is loaded with young pitching prospects this season, and one in particular is turning heads. Phenom Riley Pint (No. 3 PuRP) was clocked at 102 mph this spring and showing why Colorado chose him No. 4 overall in the 2016 draft.
It actually wasn’t in the plans for 19-year-old Pint to begin the season in Asheville as the organization didn’t want to rush him. Pitching coach Ryan Kibler admitted though that Riley forced their hand in speeding up his development.
“He came to spring training almost as a new guy,” shared Kibler. “Big misses were gone, he was throwing more strikes, still keeping the same big stuff. To watch his progression and to watch him grow, and watch him get better, it’s happened really fast. Seems like he pretty much pitched his way onto this team in spring training. So that tells you exactly what kind spring and what kind of development this kid has been through in a short amount of time.”
The righthander has ‘big-big stuff’ as Kibler puts it, with a fastball that sits at 100 mph and possibly more. The rumor going through the team was that he’s capable of more and touched 104 during the spring, but speed isn’t what the Kansas native cares about.
“To me it doesn’t even matter how hard I throw,” said Pint. “If I’m getting people out, then I’m doing alright.”
I asked Pint if he ever thinks about hitting Aroldis Chapman-like numbers on his fastball and he replied, “I don’t really focus on trying to hit as hard as everybody says. I’m just working on being a better pitcher.”
Pint complements his fastball with a developing arsenal of pitches which includes a very good changeup, a solid curve and a slider that’s still a work in progress.
The rotation for Asheville has the potential to be special. In addition to Pint, they have two young Dominican league players in Erick Julio and Antonio Santos to keep an eye on. Ryan Kibler was gushing about Santos in particular, “He’s the best pitcher in this league and nobody knows about him yet. Throws 95 consistently with a good-good curve and an excellent change. Keep an eye on him, because he’s going to be special.”
Both Pint and Santos are big guys at 6-foot-3 or taller and filled out, weighing in well above 200 lbs. Erick Julio is another pitcher with potential, while he doesn’t have the size of the other two, he’s listed generously at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 190 lbs. Julio has a complete arsenal of pitches and is a joy to watch as he throws a bullpen session with incredible movement and control.
Signed for $700,000 out of Colombia back in 2013, Julio had a solid in Boise last season carving out a 4.05 ERA after recovering from a shoulder injury which caused him to miss all of 2015. While Julio’s peripheral numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, he has a career strikeout rate of just 6.1 K/9, he has the stuff to watch.
“Julio is the No. 1 based on the season he put up last year,” said Kibler about his ace starter. “Opening night on the road is not going to wow him. (He’s a) confident kid who knows how to slow the game down. He’s the guy you want as your opening day starter.”
The lineup is headlined by third baseman Tyler Nevin (No. 23 PuRP), selected by the Rockies in the first round of the 2015 draft. Nevin missed most of 2016 with a hamstring injury that occurred early in the year. After rehabbing most of the summer, he was assigned to Short-season Boise only to re-injure the same muscle after just one game. The injury wasn’t as severe the second time, but the Rockies chose to err on the side of caution and shut him down for the season.
Nevin is a big bat in the lineup and will split time between third and first base. If his name sounds familiar that’s because he’s the son of former Padre Phil Nevin. I asked Tyler what it was like playing baseball under the shadow of a player with credentials like his dad.
“To be honest it’s not really too much of a shadow and it’s not because his accomplishments weren’t great, because they were, he was a great player,” explained Tyler. “He’s the person I look up to the most in this world. But it’s because he never gave me that sense that I needed to be good at baseball.”
“I never felt like I needed to live up to what he did because he was so supportive in anything I wanted and he was never hard on us (including Tyler’s brother and sister) for not doing well. He just wanted us to have fun. As long as what we were doing made us happy, he was more than happy to let us do it. There’s never really been much of a shadow. I just enjoy playing baseball, it just happens to be the sport that he played.”
Tyler’s background gives him an advantage as he often has the opportunity to work out with his Dad, who is also a coach for the San Francisco Giants. He spent this past offseason living with his dad in Scottsdale and used every opportunity to tap into his knowledge.
The California native had a league average 100 wRC+ in the Pioneer league a couple of years ago, even though he was nearly three years younger than the average hitter. During that time, Tyler showed a strong awareness of the strike zone, posting an on-base percentage 100 points higher than his average. His power has yet to develop, but he’s also put on 20 lbs since I last saw him play in rookie Short-season ball, something which should translate into more home runs.
Third base will be an especially hot corner for the Tourists with Nevin switching off with Colton Welker (No. 19 PuRP), the Rockies 4th round selection in last year’s draft. Welker had a breakout season in Grand Junction batting .329 with 22 XBH’s and will be at least two years younger than the average hitter in the South Atlantic League.
Baseball in Asheville is always an exciting time, as players begin to establish themselves in the lower minors as solid prospects and begin to move up in the organization. Asheville’s season starts in on Thursday, April 6 at 6:05 PM eastern time against the Hagerstown Suns.
Additional media: To hear more from the interviews, listen below and yes I do call Nolan Arenado one of the best ‘third basemans’ in baseball. Feel free to laugh at my expense. Photo gallery below as well.