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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 30, Riley Pint

After an abysmal 2019, 2021 will be critical for the righty to re-establish his prospect stock

30. Riley Pint (56 points, 6 ballots)

We start off this edition of the Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list with the most tantalizing, most frustrating profile in the entire system: Riley Pint. Few prospects can lay claim to having had the most potent arsenal in all of minor league baseball — including a 102 mph, 75 grade fastball and multiple potential plus secondary offerings including a 70 grade curveball — but many will never pitch above A-ball, which is the highest level attained by Pint in the last five years. It’s a sizable gulf between a MLB ace and A-ball flameout, but unfortunately the 6’4” righty looks to be much closer to the latter than the former.

As Colorado’s 2016 first rounder with a $4.8 million signing bonus, Pint had a pedigree as strong as his repertoire. Growing up, he famously opted out from year-round baseball 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.

So far, the Rockies and Pint haven’t gotten to that point. In four professional seasons, Pint has thrown just 156 professional innings, including only 26 innings in the last two years combined. In 2018 it was forearm stiffness (in his first game) and later an oblique injury; in 2019 it was shoulder tendinitis that shut him down in June. When he was on the mound, it wasn’t pretty either.

Pitching for Low-A Asheville mostly in a relief role in 2019, Pint threw 17 2⁄3 innings across 21 appearances. In that time he walked an incredible 31 batters (15.8 BB/9), hit six more, and threw 18 wild pitches (that’s over one per inning). Pint did strike out 23 (11.7 K/9) and limited opponents to only 12 hits during this time, but the resulting 8.66 ERA and 2.43 WHIP were not encouraging. If it weren’t for the obvious promise he possesses, Pint would have washed out of baseball by now with those results.

Here’s a short clip of Pint from 2018 in Asheville courtesy of FanGraphs:

Pint was on some national top 100 lists as recently as 2018, but he’s far from them now and slips further down the lists each year. Still, the potential gets him ranked on system evaluations.

Baseball Prospectus had the most recent comment on Pint in BP’s Rockies system evaluation, though Pint was unranked. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Pint:

Pint was not added to the 40-man, although he was hitting triple digits in instructs himself. In what is becoming an unfortunately familiar refrain for the former fourth-overall pick, reports varied, from upper-90s heat and a plus-plus flashing slider around the zone enough to make it work to 20 command/control of a low-90s fastball. And these reports came a week apart.

MLB Pipeline has Pint 26th in the org in their 2020 look:

Pint missed nearly all of the 2018 season because of forearm stiffness, then he had an oblique issue and simply couldn’t find the strike zone in 2019, necessitating a move to the bullpen, with little progress made. Pint threw just 17 2/3 innings last year and walked 31, and it doesn’t take a statistician to understand that doesn’t add up. But he also struck out 23, a testament to his still electric stuff. In the rare moments when he was right, you might have seen an 80 fastball and 80 curve and a 70 changeup. He still can reach triple digits with his heater and he has the best curve in the system when he’s in sync, not to mention a slider and changeup that are above-average.

The problem is he’s rarely in sync and you’re just as likely to see a 40 curveball as the plus-plus one. He’s worked to simplify his delivery so he can repeat it more, but he’s had trouble streamlining his large frame. No one is ready to give up on Pint because all the ingredients are there, but this is a big year for him to start showing any signs of progress.

Then again, Pint is 10th in the FanGraphs list with a 40+ FV grade despite the aforementioned 20/30 command grade:

It is not enough to say that Pint is having issues with control. Pitchers who walk guys at even a 10% or worse clip face legitimate questions about their ability to start, and sometimes their ability to pitch in the big leagues at all. Pint walked more than 30% of the hitters he faced last year, and had more wild pitches than innings. Such strike-throwing incompetence forced a move to the bullpen, which siphoned away reps, and injuries (oblique, forearm, shoulder) over the last two years have exacerbated this issue. He simply can’t be a big leaguer with this kind of wildness, but we’re still on Pint because his stuff remains incredible, among the best in the minors.

Through these struggles, Pint has continued to throw in the upper-90s with one of the harder power curveballs on the planet. The chances that he ends up as part of a rotation in any capacity have shrunk considerably, but there’s still a fair shot that he becomes a high-leverage reliever.

It’s a chasm of potential outcomes that has had the PuRPs electorate split the difference, putting the 23-year-old 30th in the system. I was clearly the high man on Pint, ranking him 13th on my personal list with a 40 FV grade because of his high ceiling. Even that view is tamped down from last year due to his 20/30 grade command from evaluators and concerns about the quality consistency of Pint’s stuff. The command and injury concerns with Pint are enormous and unfortunate, there’s no getting around that. I certainly don’t blame anyone for leaving Pint off entirely, but I think the system is shallow enough that I couldn’t ignore a potential impact arm like Pint.

Despite his arm talent, Pint was deemed too far away for the Rockies to place on the 40-man roster when eligible earlier this off-season. The other 29 teams agreed when they declined to take Pint in the Rule 5 draft in December. That’s a knock on Pint’s prospect cred, of course, but it’s not a death knell either. Since Rule 5 picks must spend the entire season on the big league club to stick, another team would have been taking a mighty big swing to fit Pint in their 2021 plans. It’s not that it isn’t possible, just that the pandemic year robbed Pint of a full season where he could have displayed progress to the Rockies and other potential employers.

Obviously, 2021 is critical for Pint to re-establish his prospect stock by showing a consistent (and effective) delivery. If he does so, the Rockies will no doubt put him on the 40-man roster after the year. If he doesn’t, Pint will be rapidly approaching minor league free agency. Pint still has a massive range of outcomes, but by far his most likely path to big league success is in relief given the sheer potency of the arsenal. There are very few potential All-Stars in Colorado’s system, but Pint is still one of them. Right? Annnnnnnnnnny day now.