3. Riley Pint (946 points, 34 ballots)
Riley Pint, the number four overall pick in the 2016 draft, brings a potent arsenal that places him among the highest potential for any prospect in minor league baseball. That includes a triple digits fastball (he’s touched 102 and sits in the mid to upper 90s), a power curveball, and a plus changeup—though evaluations vary, as you’ll see in the scouting reports below. It’s a package worth $4.8 million to the Rockies.
Better yet, the 6’4” 20-year-old righty has a relatively low mileage arm thanks to him opting out from year-round baseball as was famously chronicled in Jeff Passan’s book “The Arm”. That doesn’t mean Pint will be immune to injury, but it’s a promising sign that Pint has taken care of his arm well to this point. So what’s the catch? Well, Pint hasn’t put up numbers befitting a pitcher with his stuff to date in his professional career.
In 2016 for Rookie Ball Grand Junction, Pint made 11 abbreviated starts against players who were on average 3.5 years older than him. The abbreviated part was more by design, as the Rockies were metering the arm usage—Pint was on a pitch/innings limit and didn’t exceed five innings or 80 pitches in any of his starts. In 37 frames, Pint posted a 5.35 ERA, 5.45 FIP, 1.78 WHIP while striking out 36 hitters and walking 23. Any time you see 5.6 BB/9 that’s a bit of a red flag, but I should note that Pint’s .383 BABIP would seem to have been a little unlucky. In all, it’s not a good line but it was no disaster either.
In 2017 Pint was again among the youngest players in his league—this time the Low A South Atlantic League, where at age 19 he pitched to hitters who were on average 2.9 years older. Pint’s usage was again metered, though he had three outings that eclipsed 90 pitches late in the year. The numbers did not improve.
Pint threw 93 innings across 22 starts for the Tourists and did not end on a good note, an outing in which he allowed nine runs on six hits and three walks while not recording a single out, which raised his ERA a whopping 0.87 points. Pint finished with a 5.42 ERA (4.41 FIP), 1.67 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 rate, and a worrisome 5.7 BB/9 rate. For sure the elevated walks and a less-than dominant strikeout rate and ERA are a cause for concern for Pint. That written, some perspective is in order. Pint’s ceiling remains sky-high and outside of that final start he pitched pretty well overall in full season ball at age 19.
David Laurila of FanGraphs interviewed Rockies director of player development Zach Wilson about Pint in December (well worth reading in its entirety) and Wilson showed little concern with Pint’s numbers to date. Some excerpts from Wilson:
A lot of the strides [Pint made] came from adjustments we made to his delivery, trying to refine the consistency. We wanted him staying over the rubber a little bit longer. We were making sure his line was a little better and that he was getting the ball out of his glove in a more consistent and timely fashion.
In the same mold, we also took away some pitches. That’s probably the reason we didn’t see the strikeout numbers people were expecting — even though he did punch out his fair share [79 in 93 innings]. We made sure that he focused on his fastball command. When you do that, you don’t see the strikeout numbers that he’s certainly capable of
His curveball and slider both have a chance to be plus major-league pitches. In fact, the curveball is a plus pitch right now. The consistency isn’t plus, but it’s a plus pitch in terms of action and what it can do.
He’s obviously got the fastball. It’s a four-seam, but it’s a four-seamer with action. It’s actually got some natural sink to it, especially to his arm side. He would consistently sit 96-98, and he would hit triple digits.
Wilson was consistent in saying that for Pint in 2017 the numbers didn’t really matter to the Rockies as long as he was making strides developmentally. I think that’s something to keep in mind when considering that stat line.
Here’s some video from 2016 of Pint courtesy of FanGraphs:
Pint began 2017 in the top 100 of Baseball America (46), Baseball Prospectus (46), MLB.com (51), and ESPN.com (83). His uneven 2017 season and the emergence of others moved him down or off those lists (he was 100th for MLB.com and 99th in BA’s recent list; they ranked him 3rd in the system, rating Pint’s fastball and slider as the best of those offerings in the entire system).
MLB.com placed Pint 3rd in the system and 100 overall in MLB with a 55 FV, highlighted by a 75 fastball grade with three average or better secondary offerings:
Pint’s pure stuff is exciting, as he has the potential for four plus pitches -- if he can control them. He has an electric fastball that sits at 94-98 mph and has climbed as high as 102 with life and downhill plane, though he has yet to blow pro hitters away with it because he struggles to command it. He also can make hitters look bad with his pair of power breaking balls and his fading changeup but has had trouble getting ahead in the count to set up his secondary offerings.
The Rockies have toned down what was considerable effort in Pint’s delivery, but he still has trouble repeating his mechanics and finding the strike zone. His first order of business is to locate his fastball more consistently, and then he can spend more time refining his other pitches. Youth and athleticism are on his side, and if he figures everything out, he can be a frontline starter.
Baseball Prospectus placed Pint 2nd in the system, slapping him with a 70 OFP and 55 Likely role tag. Here’s Greg Goldstein on Pint:
The Good: Pint has everything you want in a frontline starting pitcher. He’s got the frame, athleticism, stuff, and projectability that helps you see a future top of the rotation type guy. The fastball sits 96-98 with the ability to reach triple digits. It has considerable run to it as well, so hitters will have trouble barreling the pitch anywhere in the zone. The curveball is a legitimate plus hook, showing sharp break with quality depth. It’ll rack up a ton of swings and misses when he plays it off his double-plus fastball. The right-hander also has a changeup with nice tumble and fade that can act as another putaway pitch. He’ll flash a potential average slider that can keep hitters off balance as well. His loose arm produces elite velo and movement across the board, which gives him one of the highest ceilings of any arm in minor league baseball.
The Bad: It’s all about command and pitchability for the young flamethrower. Pint’s 6.3 BB/9 IP he accumulated during 2017 is not acceptable if he wants to develop into a starting role. He’s much more of a thrower than a pitcher at the moment, frequently allowing his mechanics to become unhinged by trying to blow his fastball by hitters. There’s considerable effort in his delivery, even though he’s got a clean arm action and excellent arm speed. He’s got little feel for the zone and acts as his own biggest enemy a lot of the time. He’s still young and inexperienced, so there’s obviously a lot of time for him to improve in these areas, especially given his plus athleticism at the position. Still, high school arms with top of the rotation stuff have failed before for similar reasons.
The Risks: Extreme. Pint’s profile is one of the riskiest around. Without even a sniff of major-league-starter command or feel for the zone currently, the Rockies have to just trust the raw ability to be able to convert as he continues to develop. The pure stuff ranks near the top as far as prospects are concerned and he should at the very least have fallback as a quality closer should the command not take the needed jump. Although, that’s certainly not what you hope for when you take an arm in the top five of the draft.
I’m inclined to believe Zach Wilson and not put a ton of stock in Pint’s professional numbers to date. Pint is a long ways from Coors Field, but that shouldn’t stop Rockies fans from imagining a fully developed pitcher with Pint’s stuff and profile fronting the big league rotation. A harmonic path through the system would get Pint to the Show in late 2020 or 2021, but there’s quite a bit that could go awry—like when he hits the hitter-friendly California League in 2018.
I suppose that’s part of the reason why a potential ACE like Pint didn’t top the system (he was 2nd on my list). If he were closer to the big leagues and more refined with his command, his ceiling would merit a higher placement here. As it is, Riley has a 55+ Future Value as a number 2/3 major league starter.