8. Riley Pint (694 points, 32 ballots)
The electorate clearly doesn’t know what to do with a prospect like Riley Pint and neither do I. Though Pint was ranked on all 32 ballots for this version of the Purple Row Prospects list, his range was as high as 4 and as low as 27. This is not surprising, as Pint represents the prospect in Colorado’s system (and maybe in all of minor league baseball) with easily the largest variance of potential outcomes.
Pint’s potent arsenal (which includes a 102 MPH, 75 grade fastball and multiple potential plus secondary offerings), if harnessed and polished, is that of a big league ace. His floor, given his struggles with command and a mostly lost 2018 season, is that he never pitches a game above A ball. It’s a sizable gulf, and figuring out which end of the spectrum the 6’4” righty will land on is a question that vexes professional and amateur prospect enthusiasts alike.
As Colorado’s 2016 first rounder with a $4.8 million signing bonus, Pint has one of the best pedigrees around to go with his repertoire. Growing up, he famously opted out from year-round baseball as was chronicled in Jeff Passan’s book “The Arm”, which put fewer “miles” on Pint’s arm entering pro ball. Consequently though, it also meant that Pint had fewer reps to refine his command before entering pro ball than even most high school arms. That meant there would be a steep developmental curve for Pint to take him from a thrower to a pitcher, one to which the Rockies took with gusto in 2016 and 2017.
Pint’s results were pedestrian in his first two professional seasons against opposition that was on average over 3 years older than him. Given a strict pitch/inning limit, Pint was only allowed to eclipse 5 innings or 80 pitches in a start during the second half of 2017. He posted a 5.35 ERA in Grand Junction in 2016 and a 5.42 ERA in Asheville in 2017, but those numbers almost seemed beside the point for the Rockies, as they focused very specifically on certain things with their potential ace.
To get their side of the story, please read Rockies Director of Player Development Zach Wilson’s discussion with David Laurila of FanGraphs after the 2017 season in full. An example statement from Wilson:
At the end of the day, it’s not about the numbers at Asheville. When he’s pitching at the big-league level, yeah, then it’s about the numbers. Here it’s about getting incrementally better so that in four, five years from now — whatever it might be — he’s the No. 1 starter in the majors that he has a chance to be. That’s what we’re trying to create: a major-league No. 1 starter, not a Low-A No. 1 starter.
For Rockies fans entering 2018, the above conversation served to entice us about what Pint could do when unleashed. We looked forward to seeing what the next step of that evolution would be in 2018 as Pint repeated at Asheville, but the season was a failure to launch. Pint lasted just a third of an inning with Asheville before leaving with a forearm stiffness. He was shelved for over two months before being assigned to Short Season A ball Boise, where he lasted two more short starts before suffering an oblique strain that shut him down for two more months. Pint made a one inning appearance with Boise in late August to end his season.
In all, Pint threw 8 1⁄3 game innings in 2018, in which he walked 11, allowed 6 hits, 4 earned runs, and struck out 8. There’s not much that anyone can take away from the campaign — it was a lost season, plain and simple. Pint should be healthy again this spring, where the 21-year old will likely be asked to go back to Asheville and try to resume his progress toward a major league starter.
Here’s Pint in action in his June 2018 start with Boise, courtesy of Timothy Moore:
For a more in-depth video, you can check out this FanGraphs video of Pint from 2016.
Pint entered 2018 on some national top 100 lists, but he’s absent from them now.
In their recent system overview, Baseball Prospectus ranked Pint 6th in the system with the prospect report equivalent of a shrug emoji:
He was limited to just eight innings in 2018 due to a forearm injury. This followed a 2017 that was developmentally weird at best. The potential talent here is undeniable, but eventually the potential has to actualize. I can tell you that the Rockies are still saying all the right things publicly here, because of course they are. I can tell you there’s still an elite fastball lurking in the profile. But we’ve now gone beyond unknown unknowns with Pint.
Now strictly speaking, Riley Pint is probably not the sixth best prospect in the Rockies system. He’s maybe second or perhaps not on the list; there’s your one standard deviation. But this feels close enough, nestled in a tier of his own between the safer major-league bets and the relievers and fourth outfielders. Prospect lists are a snapshot in time as my predecessor used to say. This report is an underdeveloped polaroid.
To give you an idea of the ceiling, in the past BP has written this sentence about Pint:
Pint is a projectable and athletic right hander whose stuff is some of the best in the minor leagues.
The risk didn’t stop FanGraphs from ranking Pint 2nd in the system back in May 2018 with a 50 FV grade:
Pint was identified as a potential high-first-round pick as a high school underclassman, showing mid-90s velocity and a long, lanky, athletic frame in tournaments. He remained an elite arm over the next few years, going fourth overall in 2016 and continuing to show some of the best stuff on the planet, including two 70s and two 60s on some days.
Pint doesn’t have much deception and has big effort and head whack in his delivery. Also, his fastball doesn’t have much life, and he may generally just throw too hard to learn the finesse aspects of being a starting pitcher. His walk rates and contact allowed are worrisome, but the stuff and athleticism are still at the top of the scale, so the upside remains sky high, although scouts are getting less enthusiastic.
That’s despite a present 30 grade on the command; I suppose the 70 FB/60 CB/50 SL/50 CH grades (from some stingy graders) help make up for that.
For a less sanguine take, here was John Sickels before the 2018 season, who ranked Pint 8th in the system as a B- prospect:
Fastball reported as high as a rumored/reported 102, a definitely confirmed 99, and consistently 94-96, but very inconsistent off-speed pitches and poor command due to mechanical issues make him quite hittable at this point, even for Low-A hitters; widely regarded as best pitching prospect in the Rockies system; in my opinion he has the best arm for certain, but that’s not the same thing as being the best pitching prospect, thus his ranking here; he certainly has lots of time but another bad year as a starter will increase relief rumors
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.
It’s clear from the grades in MLB.com’s evaluation of Pint’s offerings (75 fastball, 55 curveball, 55 slider, 50 changeup) that he has the stuff to be a frontline starter. Then again, the injury concerns are severe, while the 40 control grade brings his future production further into question. The potential is there, but because it just hasn’t actualized to date, it’s becoming more difficult for evaluators to give said actualization credence.
My 45+ Future Value grade on Pint (I ranked him 7th in the system) is completely inaccurate, but I don’t know which way it will be inaccurate. Sometimes you just have to put down something in the middle. Pint will try again in Asheville this year, and I hope 2018 will be just a bump in the road for the development of a top-line starter and not a portent of a bust.