FORT MYERS, Fla. – When Riley Pint walked a batter in his first inning at Perfect Game’s national showcase in June, there was a rumble of surprise among the hundreds of observing scouts.
In the buildup to this gathering of the nation’s best high school players, the lanky Kansan had been portrayed as some sort of baseball ideal, one without pitching or personal flaws.
His pre-showcase scouting report from Perfect Game, a website that ranks baseball prospects, raved about a fastball that reached 96 m.p.h. and a breaking ball that was even more impressive.
“As good as the velocity is,” wrote Jheremy Brown, “it’s the knuckle-curve that separates him.”
His high school coach spoke just as glowingly about Pint’s other attributes.
“His presence, his stature, how he handles himself, you don’t find that in young kids very often,” said coach Lorne Parks of St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park, Kan. “He handles himself well in the classroom. He comes to practice every day trying to improve. His work ethic is unbelievable. He’s just a classy, well-rounded young man.”
All of that – but especially the fastball and knuckle-curve – helped explain why for the last year Perfect Game has ranked the 17-year-old righthander in its top 3 high school prospects. No. 1 earlier this year, he’s No. 3 now, behind lefty Jason Groome of Barnegat, N.J., and California outfielder Blake Rutherford.
Such a lofty assessment means the Phillies will look long and hard at the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder between now and June, when for the first time since 1998 they will have the initial pick in the draft.
If the Phillies choose him, he will be the first high school righthander taken No. 1 overall. Regardless of how high he goes, Pint, who has committed to LSU, perhaps the nation’s top collegiate program, will have to be persuaded to forgo a dream.
“Ever since I was a little kid it’s been a goal of mine to play in the College World Series,” said Pint, a Lenexa, Kan., resident. “I really love this game. So whatever happens with the draft or LSU, I’m just glad I’ll be playing this game somewhere.”
The son of an Iowa State pitcher and a Kansas State women’s basketball player, Pint was hitting 90 on the radar gun as an Aquinas freshman. A veteran staff and a season limited to 20 games helped Parks resist the urge to overwork his ninth grader.
“I’d heard some hearsay about him and I talked to him when he first got here,” Parks said. “But when I finally got a look at him on the field, I was like, ‘Wow, this kid is going to be something special.’ ”
Aquinas’ coaches made some minor adjustments, directing his follow-through more toward home plate. He took off, going 8-0 as a sophomore.
“He was already a 93-94 guy his sophomore year,” Parks said. “His velocity has continued to go up. I just think that wherever he ends up his upside is tremendous.”
In the summer of 2014, at a showcase tournament, Pint jumped to the top of his class with a 113-pitch outing. What really impressed scouts was his consistency. The 16-year-old’s 113th pitch was clocked at 94 m.p.h.
He was up to 97 on occasion this summer, a jump in velocity that happened as his broad-shouldered body filled out.
Pint was also a basketball star at Aquinas but has decided to give up the game in his senior season. “That ought to help him keep the weight on and keep his velocity up,” Parks said.
The pitcher has dominated opponents in the talent-rich Kansas City area, at first with his fastball and then with the knuckle-curve he learned as a 9-year-old playing summer ball.
“I like the way it feels when it comes out of my hand,” he said.
On the elite Mac-N-Seitz travel team, a program run by ex-major-leaguers Mike Macfarlane and Kevin Seitzer, Pint learned the pitch from MacFarlane, the longtime Royals catcher.
“We wanted to teach him a pitch that doesn’t put a lot of stress on the elbow,” said Macfarlane, who has coached Pint for eight summers. “As he’s gotten older and bigger, he’s just been able to power through that pitch. You combine that with the change-up he throws and that velocity and it makes for a pretty special young pitcher.”
As the attention mounts, so has the pressure. But Parks insists that Pint is so well-grounded, he’s virtually immune.
“He hasn’t let all this stuff go to this head,” Parks said. “Not once has there been any arrogance. He takes it all in stride and tries to focus on what he needs to do – his bullpen sessions, his weight work and offseason conditioning.”
But, as that first-inning walk indicated, he’s not perfect. Pint sometimes fights his control.
“He had two losses last year,” noted Parks. “He struggles a little finding the strike zone at times. When that happens, hitters know he’s going to take something off his fastball and they sit on it.”
Usually, though, Pint auto-corrects. After that first-inning walk here, for example, his demeanor never changed. He blew away the next two hitters – both high school all-stars.
“You don’t see any change on the mound,” Macfarlane said. “He’s got a very even temperament. He keeps his cool.”