In 2021 with the High-A Spokane Indians, right handed pitcher Riley Pint was off to a strong start. Through 10 2⁄3 innings out of the Indians’ bullpen, Pint had an ERA of 3.38 with 17 strikeouts. Walks—a persistent issue through his career thus far—were still high at ten across his ten appearances, but Pint was on the right track.
The Colorado Rockies’ former top pitching prospect—drafted fourth overall in 2016 right out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School—hung up his cleats after five years in the Rockies farm system. Pint had struggled with mechanics and control issues through his minor league career. He had a fastball that consistently hit 100 MPH, but couldn’t place his pitches consistently. Through his five years in the minors Pint had a career BB/9 of 7.2 despite a career SO/9 of 8.8, with an ERA of 5.56. He also struggled with injuries that led him to miss time in both 2017 and 2018, including tightness in his pitching arm and an oblique strain. He missed even more crucial development time when the 2020 minor league season was cancelled due to COVID.
Pint’s struggles on the mound and the pressure of having been such a highly touted prospect took their toll on his confidence and mental health. In June of 2021 he walked away from the game he had been playing all his life without having made it past A-level ball. The Rockies placed Pint on the restricted list, but left the door open for him to return some day.
“And at the end of the day, it just came down to some personal decisions for Riley,” Former assistant general manager of player development Zach Wilson said. “We want to support Riley right now [with] where he’s at in his life. And we’ll certainly support him as to the next several weeks and months and years. We drafted him and he spent a lot of time here. We’ve worked very hard with him, so just because he’s decided to step away doesn’t mean that we’re going to cut that off at all.”
Pint’s return to baseball came sooner rather than later. He reported to minor league camp in early March after news broke that he had un-retired.
“It was a very tough time for me, not just because of what was going on on the field, but leaving the guys was tough,” Pint said to the Denver Post. “But I really needed to get away for a little bit and re-find myself. Just relax for a little bit. It brought a lot of clarity to me, too.”
“Well, I realized I wasn’t ready to get a regular job yet, and I realized I still wanted to play baseball.”
Now 24 years old, Pint found the resources to continue his baseball career in Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt and elder statesman reliever Daniel Bard. When he reached out to the Rockies to come back, Pint was able to have an “open dialogue with the guys at the top” to work through a plan for the future and what was expected of him.
Schmidt emphasized a focus on the mental aspects of Baseball when he took the reigns as general manager after the 2021 season.
“I’m a big proponent of the mental side of (baseball),” he told the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders during a Q & A last August. “I think that might be more important and I’ve talked to Dick (owner Dick Monfort) about it. I think we have to build up the mental skills side as much as we do the analytics area. Because, remember, we are dealing with human beings.”
Thanks to his conversations with Schmidt and the front office, Pint is “throwing with no limitations and said he feels like the weight from past expectations has been lifted from his shoulders,” said Saunders.
As for Daniel Bard, the two talk regularly. Bard was out of baseball for over seven years after the dreaded yips derailed a promising career. He was hired as a mental skills coach by the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2018 by then-vice president of player development Mike Bell.
“He was so instrumental in me seeing value in myself and seeing my career in a different light,” Bard said to the Gazette. “He told me I had so much to offer these young guys. He gave a lot of second chances to guys like me. He had a deep belief that people deserve second chances.”
Bard returned to baseball in the 2020 season with the Rockies with an ERA of 3.65 and earning Comeback Player of the Year honors. Now he’s helping Riley Pint succeed in his own second chance.
“Daniel has shared a couple of things that helped him come back,” Pint said. “He’s an amazing resource. I just wanted to learn how to separate baseball and life. That’s a huge part of it and that’s something he enlightened me on. That was something I was never very aware of before.”
Pint has been assigned to the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats to start the 2022 minor league season. It’s the highest level of baseball he’s played during his professional career, and it could be a challenge for him. If he can overcome this challenge using his experiences and new skills he’s learned along a bumpy journey, Pint might finally be able to make his big league dream a reality.
“As long as I’m able to clear my mind out there on the mound, I’ll be good,” he said. “That’s what needs to happen. It’s a mindset of hitting targets and not really worrying about much else.”
“When you see that wildness, it’s not about anything physical, it’s just about not being in the right head-space. I’ve been able to — finally — be in a place where I can block a lot of that stuff out and just focus on pitching.”
★ ★ ★
The beginning of the 2022 season is almost here, and The Athletic’s Nick Groke breaks down what a realistically perfect season would look like for the Rockies. Kyle Freeland needs to take the next big step forward and become the staff’s true no. 2. Brendan Rodgers needs to build on his successful 2021 season and become a key contributor. Connor Joe has the potential to be the “Chris Taylor” of the Rockies, and could be incredibly important this season. Ryan McMahon needs to find his power early and often. CJ Cron needs to hit more home runs. Kris Bryant needs to set “measure of accountability and that measure is met, they will improve.”
Most importantly, general manager Bill Schmidt needs to avoid becoming complacent. He needs to continue to build on what he’s started here in Denver. No more of the “players need to be better” or “at least we’re improving.” It’s time for the Rockies to win ballgames. Especially with all of Dick Monfort’s big talk.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
The Albuquerque Isotopes won their first ballgame of the minor league season on a six-run, nine-hit effort against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Third baseman and top Rockies prospect Elehuris Montero was 2-for-4 with an RBI and drew a walk without striking out. New face to the squad Jonathan Morales started at DH and was also 2-for-4, as was returning fan favorite Wynton Bernard. Ryan Vilade started in left field and drew two walks, but has yet to get his first hit of the season. Four of the Rockies’ six runs came in the sixth inning thanks to two errors by the Dodgers’ defense. Old friend Tony Wolters was 1-for-2 with a well-hit two RBI double and two walks.
Rockies starting pitcher Frank Duncan was done after three innings, allowing four runs on five hits and walking four batters. Reagan Todd relieved him in the fourth inning with traffic and struck out three batters to end the inning. JD Hammer and Zach Lee both pitched clean frames with three and two strikeouts respectively. Chad Smith closed out the game in the ninth despite giving up a hit and walk to earn his first save of the season.
★ ★ ★
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