SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- For a time, Riley Pint was as highly regarded a pitching prospect as nearly any in baseball. The right-hander from Kansas was the second-highest Draft prospect in 2016, according to MLB Pipeline, and went to the Rockies with that year's fourth overall pick. He capped his first professional season at No. 39 on the Top 100 Prospects list after an 11-start debut with Rookie-level Grand Junction.
The labels came easily. Pint was a "phenom." He was a "future ace."
Then he was gone.
Maybe it hasn't been quite that serious for Pint, but after two tough seasons, Colorado's former No. 3 prospect has fallen off every industry Top 100 list and toward the lower end of his organization's Top 10. Last year, the native of Overland Park, Kansas, was limited by injuries to just four total outings between Class A Short Season Boise and Class A Asheville. This spring, to say the least, things have been different -- and different isn't necessarily bad.
"You kind of fly under the radar," a relaxed Pint said Monday at Rockies camp. "You're not signing autographs and everything for everybody. It's nice, man. You come out here, and you're still one of the guys, but you're just like everybody else. You come out here, get your stuff done and take it in. it's no extra stuff or any of that stuff. It's been really nice. I'm just looking forward to continuing that going into the season and building off some of the stuff that I'm working on."
Pint's body of professional work hasn't been pretty just yet. In 37 starts since he was drafted, the Colorado's No. 8 prospect has posted a 3-19 record with a 5.33 ERA, a 1.72 WHIP and over six walks per nine innings. Last year, he lasted just a third of an inning in his season debut for Asheville and didn't take the mound again until June with Boise due to forearm stiffness. After putting that behind him, a strained oblique hit and derailed Pint again.
"I never really understood what an oblique was until I strained it, and then it was like you use your oblique for everything," he said. "It did [stink] because you're coming back, coming back, making some starts, and then all of a sudden, you get hurt again. It's just a learning process. You've got to learn to keep your body healthy throughout the season. For me, it's just going out there and continuing to build strength and be healthy."
Pint entered pro ball with an aura about him. He was heavily featured in Jeff Passan's book "The Arm," spotlighted as an uncommon modern athlete whose multi-sport background might have helped build a physical profile that could buck the trends of modern baseball arm injuries. He threw easy heat, consistently reaching triple-digits in high school with a fastball that still grades out at 75 on Pipeline's 20-to-80 scale. The Rockies still regard his breaking ball as the best in the system, and his slider and changeup can be lethal as well. But Pint has thrown only 8 1/3 innings since late August 2017. Question marks abound now, and Pint is ready to answer them.
"The main thing, I just think my mechanics have gotten a lot better since I came out of high school, just keeping it nice and simple, not overcomplicating things, keeping it athletic," he said. "That's what my main thing was coming into this year, and I think I've done a pretty good job about it so far."
Video: Pint records second K in debut start
Out for nearly the entire 2018 season, Pint spent a lot of time watching baseball last year and resetting himself. One thing stood out.
"For me, it's just how much I love the game," he said. "You miss it when you're not throwing out there. So for me, it's nice to finally come out here and be on a regular five-day rotation again, throwing the ball every fifth day. That part of missing the game, [the key] is just going out there and continuing to be healthy."
Both player and team are ready to put last year behind them, and Pint has time on his side. The righty is only 21 years old and could get the chance to prove himself immediately in two of the Minors' least pitcher-friendly ballparks if he heads back to Asheville or makes the jump to Class A Advanced Lancaster to begin 2019.
"It's a challenge, and it's one of those things where if you do do well in those places, they're like, 'OK, this guy can pitch,'" he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to it. You go there and everybody's like, 'Oh, the wind's blowing out. It's a short porch.' No dude, that's awesome. For me, that's just another challenge that I get to face up there. I'm just looking forward to trying to overcome those."
Offseason MiLB include
The Rockies, long regarded as a franchise that couldn't develop nor acquire pitching, is suddenly flush with homegrown arms. Last year's rotation, which led Colorado to a second-consecutive playoff appearance for the first time in franchise history, included former Rockies first-rounders Kyle Freeland (2014), Jon Gray (2013) and Tyler Anderson (2011) as well as German Márquez, who Colorado acquired from Tampa Bay after the righty spent 2015 at two Class A levels. Pint, fellow righty Peter Lambert, 2018 first-rounder Ryan Rolison show there's more to come in the system.
"They have that trust and faith in us that we can and will be the next guys that go up there," Pint said. "You've got Freeland, Senzatela, Marquez, Gray, all those guys that are up there right now. They proved it. They can do it. It's pretty fun just to know that you could be one of the next guys that could possibly go up there."
Opening Night is approaching, and when it arrives, Pint will be back on a mound in a competitive setting, doing his best to put his name back in the forefront of people's minds.
"I'm just excited to face hitters again, man," he said with a wide smile. "It's been pretty much a whole year without really facing too many hitters. Just getting back into that groove and getting back into that routine of every fifth day going out there, man, I'm excited. It's just a lot of fun."