Pioneer notes: Pint learning how to pitch
A growth spurt in junior high school prefaced the first dose of head-turning heat Riley Pint handed out on the diamond, and a few years later the 6-foot-4 right-hander is throwing thunderbolts all over the Pioneer League.
He's still searching for his first win in his debut season, but in his seventh start for Grand Junction, the Rockies' Pint showed why Colorado took him with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 Draft: serious, serious gas.
"The fastball is pretty firm," said Grand Junction pitching coach Ryan Kibler, a day after Pint hit 99 mph several times, according to the scoreboard at Missoula's Ogren-Allegiance Field (the Osprey's pitch charters had him hitting 100). "And he has a really nice breaking ball, too. He has an unbelievable arm, an unbelievable body and unbelievable stuff."
And, people should remember, he's 18. Pint, a native of Lenexa, Kansas, turns 19 on Sept. 6. His frame holds 215 pounds, yet he's already this good, striking out hitters with a deadly fastball-curve combo.
This is no surprise to fans around Kansas City. Pint was enough of a phenom at St. Thomas Aquinas High School that he landed on the pages of Jeff Passan's book The Arm, which describes Pint hitting 96 mph as a 16-year-old, 98 as a junior and then, that same year in front of scouts, 102.
"I always threw a bit harder, I guess," he says with a smile. "When I was in eighth grade I was kind of a short, chubby kid. Then from eighth grade into freshman year I grew five, six inches. I was kind of tall and lanky and just grew out of the chubbiness, I guess."
That freshman year he broke 90 for the first time. The good news behind all this is pitch count: Pint, with his easy motion, recalls throwing no more than 101 pitches in a game.
College baseball power LSU liked what it saw, but then so did the Rockies. They drafted a guy Kibler compares favorably with current Colorado pitchers Eddie Butler and Jon Gray, who both started their pro careers in Grand Junction.
"Stuff wise … he's at the top," said Kibler, who also pitched in the Rockies' system for four seasons. "When it comes to raw ability, at that age -- his fastball and his breaking ball -- I haven't seen anybody quite like him."
The rub is that in the Rookie-level Pioneer League hitters can square up fastballs, no matter how fast.
"It's definitely an adjustment because you have to use all your pitches," Pint said. "You can't just go out there and rely on your fastball all the time. Even though you want to establish the fastball, you have to use the other pitches."
The Aug. 13 start in Missoula was his strongest, with one run allowed in five innings. The Rockies' No. 4 prospect threw 76 pitches, his high as a pro, and struck out six.
"It's been quite different, actually," he said. "Just because you're not able to blow fastballs by guys. They're going to catch up to them and they're going to hit them hard. Just like yesterday -- you saw an 0-2 fastball I tried to sneak by [Osprey shortstop Jasrado Chisholm] and he just flicked it the other way for a home run."
Pint also drew a mound visit from Kibler after putting a couple more runners on.
"He was getting behind in counts and I wanted to make sure he was really focused on the target and pitching to contact," Kibler said. "That's where he gets into trouble: He gets behind in counts or even in counts, where the opposing offense can eliminate that curveball. That is about the only way they're able to do anything with that 99-mph fastball.
"I said, 'This contact you're getting, deep in the count or behind in the count -- why don't we try to get that in the first three pitches?'"
Pint finished out with two scoreless innings, and a day later chalked up the visit to exhuberance. The son of two Division I athletes -- father Neil pitched for Iowa State and mom Missy played basketball and volleyball at Kansas State -- loves the game.
"I get a little amped up, especially when I'm out there because I'm so excited to be out there," Pint said.
You get the feeling it wouldn't matter where: Coors Field, Colorado Springs or Helena's aging ballpark. In two starts at Great Falls and then Missoula, he quickly lowered his ERA from 7.59 to 4.22.
"I couldn't imagine anything more because it's been just such a blast, coming to Grand Junction and playing in the Pioneer League," Pint said. "It's been awesome."
Voyage to the top of the staff: The Great Falls Voyagers' league-leading pitching staff has put them in position for a second-half playoff berth out of the Northern Division, and no one should overlook the addition of second-round 2016 Draft pick Alec Hansen. The 6-foot-7 righty out of Oklahoma has 42 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings since coming to Great Falls in mid-July; he's 2-0 and the Voyagers are 8-5 this half. That's not to discount Chris Comito (4-2) and Aron McRee (4-0). "They've all done well," Voyagers manager Tommy Thompson told the Great Falls Tribune. "I can't say one's better than the other. They've all had their moments."
Owlz fly coup: Orem used a nice mix of veterans and 2016 Draft picks to win the first-half Southern Division title via tiebreaker over Idaho Falls. But where once 13 of the parent Los Angeles Angels' top 20 Draft picks were in Utah, now there's five. Connor Justus (.344), Jordan Zimmerman (.422), Troy Montgomery (.341) and Brennon Lund (.397) all contributed to the Owlz' league-leading team batting average and then were moved to Class A Burlington or elsewhere. Among the remaining top players are outfielder Zach Gibbons (.388 average, 11 steals) and league runs leader (and 2015 second-round pick) Jahmai Jones.
Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to MiLB.com.