There’s some player movement going on in the Rockies Minor League system:
A trio of former top draft picks are on the move. #Rockies top prospect Zac Veen (2020 first round pick) is being promoted to Double-A, while Michael Toglia (2019) and Riley Pint (2016) are heading to Triple-A— Danielle Allentuck (@d_allentuck) August 9, 2022
Two of those are standard procedure. Zac Veen (No. 1 PuRP) is arguably their best prospect, and he’s performed well at High-A Spokane, so a promotion to Double-A makes sense. Michael Toglia (No. 7 PuRP) has been hammering the ball recently (hitting .368, slugging .735 and striking out 17.8% of the time, with 8 homers in 16 games), setting a Yard Goats home run record in the process. Those two make perfect sense.
The last one is a bit different.
The Rise and The Fall
I’m pretty sure we all know the story, but let’s tell the tale of Riley Pint once again, even if we do it with brevity. Pint was a phenom coming out of high school — a prodigy arm with a triple-digit fastball, a hammer of a breaking ball and the ideal pitcher’s frame, garnering Justin Verlander comparisons. The Rockies overlooked some of the concerns (rightfully so), such as the effort in his delivery and the violent head whack he had at the time of being drafted, picked him fourth overall and gave him a $4.8M signing bonus. He immediately slotted in as the consensus number two prospect in a strong Rockies farm system, behind Brendan Rodgers. Things looked great.
And this is when it goes left.
We know what comes next. Pint struggled immensely, first in rookie ball and then in full-season ball. He had big issues throwing strikes and his ERA was well over 5.00 in both 2016 and 2017. It’s likely that the pressure of being a top draft pick and the hitter-friendly nature of Rockies minor league affiliates combined with mechanical issues to create a dangerous cocktail — a cocktail that threatened to derail his career. He then missed almost all of 2018 with injury and fell off prospect lists, but rock bottom was yet to be reached, and 2019 is when the wheels truly looked to fall off as a pro. He was transitioned to relief, but struggled even more with his control. Of the 98 batters he faced in ‘19, 31 walked and 6 were hit, and he also threw 18 wild pitches in 17 2⁄3 innings. Writing this is tough, but there is a payoff at the end, I promise.
2020 was a lost season for minor league players. When 2021 came around, Pint looked better than he had in 2019 as far as his results go, but he clearly wasn’t in the best place as a ballplayer. In early June 2021, he announced his retirement, roughly five years after being drafted.
Think about what retiring from a game that you played your whole life, and probably used to love, at age 23 will do to you. Every young ballplayer dreams of being a major leaguer, and Riley Pint got a shot to do and couldn’t get there. That has to mess with your head, and it has to be a tough pill to swallow.
Except, Pint didn’t cut it all off. He kept in touch with his teammates and farm director Chris Forbes, talked with Daniel Bard and Bill Schmidt, and returned to minor league camp in early March of 2022. He’s talked about how he’s now able to find baseball fun again, and his on-mound mannerisms reflect that. His stuff? You can see it for yourself.
His time off hasn’t reduced his arm talent. He can still hit triple digits. He still has that filthy power breaking ball. Pint has pitched 42 2⁄3 innings for Hartford prior to his promotion, striking out 55 batters in those frames. And while his walks remain high (29 of them in 42 2⁄3 IP), they’re the lowest they’ve been in many years, plus at a level that can be worked with moving forward. Moving forward? Oh yes. This could be just the beginning for Riley Pint. He’s still just 24 years of age, folks, and with his promotion to Albuquerque, the big leagues are close.
A year ago, this wouldn’t have seemed possible, but now it is.
But at the heart of it, the numbers and the cold ‘can this ballplayer be a valuable major leaguer’ conversation is not what this piece is about. This is more of a celebration. The fact that Pint managed to get himself back to a place good enough to where he felt comfortable jumping back into pro ball is remarkable and should be celebrated. And the fact that he’s performed well and has put himself on the doorstep of the big leagues is exceptional.
There are some things to keep in mind here, from the standpoint of the Rockies organization. Riley Pint will be a free agent after the season if he’s not added to the 40-man roster, which is why you should expect his stay at Albuquerque to not be a lengthy one, especially if he pitches well. The baseball gods have thrown a lot of curveballs at Riley Pint, and he deserves to hit one out after making his way back. It would be a thing of beauty to see him close out a ballgame with a Rockies jersey on.
And I think we’re all rooting for that, aren’t we?
★ ★ ★
Solid pun on the title, and guess what? Dan Szymborski really likes something the Rockies have done, for once! Aside from injuries, the shape of Lamet’s slider has been inconsistent since 2021 started, and if the Rockies can fix that they’ll get themselves a dynamite reliever.
Chad Kuhl has really struggled over the past month or so, and he was recently put on the 15-day injured list. He’s not just rehabbing, though. He’s making changes to be better when he returns.
On The Farm
In a ballgame that was a bit of a pitcher’s duel, Albuquerque (48-57) came out of on top in large part thanks to starter Riley Smith, who danced around baserunners through six solid frames (6.0 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), and the good work of the bullpen, especially from a Justin Lawrence who struck out three to get the save. Three of the four Isotopes runs came on solo homers from Alan Trejo, Sean Bouchard (call him up!) and Michael Toglia, who went 2-for-4 with a mammoth 448-foot homer in his Triple-A debut:
Albuquerque outscored Reno 4-1 from the 5th inning onwards, digging themselves out of a hole for win number 48, a welcomed sight after getting swept at El Paso in their last series. Brandon Gold (4-5, 6.89 ERA) will take the mound today looking to start a winning streak.
Make that four losses in a row (and five in their last six) for the now 61-41 Yard Goats, who got shut down by Somerset pitching. In his Double-A debut, Will Ethridge pitched very well for four frames (4.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 1 K), but the Patriots eventually got to Tony Locey in the 7th, pulling away for good with a pair of runs. It was a day of debuts on the position player side as well: top Rockies prospect Zac Veen went 1-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base in his Double-A debut. Here’s his first Hartford knock:
Zac Veen's first AA hit vs a Randy Vasquez who has his good stuff out tonight. Veen proceeded to make a great dumb play whereupon he was picked off, but kept the run down going and Stovall scored.https://t.co/48u8lokOgG pic.twitter.com/Wjnz4ojupM— Nate Handy (@pitchingspecs) August 9, 2022
As the tweet reads, even in mistakes he manages to be exciting, directly contributing to the lone Hartford run of the game. The rest of the lineup was kept quiet aside from Hunter Stovall and Willie MacIver, both of whom had two-hit days, and as a whole they struck out 13 times, managed just one extra-base hit and went 0-for-4 with RISP. Not a great recipe for success, and they will need to find their groove if they are to break the losing streak today. Their starter is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
A very complete win for Spokane (52-48) in this one, beating Hillsboro in all areas of the game. They hit better, walked more, struck out less, played better defense, got a better outing from their starter and got better work from the bullpen. Ryley Widell got the nod to start and was good, striking out eight batters (5.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 HR) and getting his first win at the High-A level. As far as the batters go, Julio Carreras (2-for-4, BB, 3 R, RBI, 2 SB), Colin Simpson (2-for-3, 2B, BB, 3 R, 2 RBI, SB) and Ronaiker Palma (2-for-4, 2B, BB, R, RBI) led the way, with Hunter Goodman adding a solo homer of his own. Spokane went 6-for-14 with RISP, and they’ve won three of their last four. They’ll look to make if four wins in five ballgames with lefty Joe Rock (7-6, 3.68 ERA) taking the hill for his 18th start of the season.
Fresno has won five of seven in August, and they’re 61-42 overall after a great comeback win, scoring seven runs in the 8th and 9th innings combined. That development took some of the focus away from the biggest story of the day in Fresno Grizzlies world: the Low-A debut of electric teenage starter Jordy Vargas, one of the Rockies’ very best pitching prospects. Vargas went 4.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 0 HR, throwing 70 pitches (42 strikes). Three of his innings were good; one, not so much. All three runs he allowed came in the third inning, where he walked a couple of hitters and got a few outs on the bases (one was his own pickoff, though), but the other three frames were pretty clean. Here’s his first Low-A strikeout, on a lively high fastball:
And here’s his curveball knee-buckling a batter:
That’s an exciting arm. Remember this is a teenager in full season A-ball, by the way. I’d expect him to finish the season at Low-A, and start next season there as well. On the lineup front, the box score looks really weird. They scored eight runs... on four hits and twelve walks. Here’s the kicker: all four of their hits went for extra bases. Yanquiel Fernández doubled and homered, Juan Brito doubled and Adael Amador hit a two-run homer. And those were the only Fresno hits of the day! Amador was the sparkplug (1-for-2, HR, 3 BB, 2 R, 2 RBI), bringing his slash line up to .307/.427/.481. He has 70 walks to 54 strikeouts in 434 plate appearances, and I’m very surprised he hasn’t been promoted to Spokane already. Cullen Kafka (4-3, 4.71 ERA) takes the mound today, looking to make it six wins in eight August games for Fresno.
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