It’s way too early to project the where and when with Riley Pint and a pro baseball career. There doesn’t seem to be much mystery, though, that the Kansas native and LSU commit will be a star at some point.
A few years from now when the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft rolls around, Pint figures to arrive at a crossroads with no undesirable path to choose from.
But the ultra-talented right-handed pitcher makes it very clear that there will be, without a doubt, multiple choices to consider.
“I’ve always dreamed about playing college baseball at LSU and pitching in the College World Series,” the junior at St. Thomas Aquinas in the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa said matter-of-factly. “That would be a dream come true for me. It’s definitely something that I am going to consider very seriously.”
Make no mistake about it, though: The Tigers and college baseball will have some serious competition.
Entering his junior season — which will have to wait a while because the 6-foot-4 Pint is also a prep basketball star — he is rated by PerfectGame.org as the No. 1 prospect for the 2016 draft.
That comprehensive list is the cream of the crop and includes current college players, with LSU sophomore pitcher Jared Poche (No. 15), another Tigers’ commit, right-handed pitcher Todd Peterson from Florida (No. 40) and freshman infielder and former Brother Martin standout Greg Deichmann (No. 94) also in the Top 100.
How did Pint wind up there? By turning in an extraordinary summer performance, particularly at the WWBA 17-and-under National Championship in Emerson, Ga.
With dozens of scouts and college coaches on hand at the July event, Pint stole the thunder from most of the rest of the players in the tournament, most of them a year older.
Playing for Mac-N-Seitz, a KC-based travel team operated by former Kansas City Royals players Mike MacFarlane and Kevin Seitzer, Pint exploded onto the national scene.
PerfectGame.org scout/analyst Jheremy Brown reported that Pint’s fastball touched 96 mph and hovered in the 91-94 range. While that is nasty enough on its own, Pint also turned heads with a variety of breaking pitches, one that Brown honed in on.
“As good as the velocity is and the projection, it’s the knuckle-curve that separates him, as it’s a plus-pitch with really good shape and velocity,” Brown wrote, noting that the unique pitch was clocked from 80-84 mph.
Pint said he learned the pitch from Macfarlane, a former catcher.
“I just stuck with it the whole time and really like the way I throw it,” he said in Brown’s report. “It just feels good coming out of my hand, so I just keep with it.”
Not that he strays too far from his bread-and-butter. Brown wrote that Pint’s 113th pitch in the game he scouted was a 94-mph strike.
That doesn’t surprise Pint’s high school coach at STA.
Lorne Parks, a 30-year coaching veteran, steered St. Thomas Aquinas to the Class 5A state championship last spring with Pint as a key component. He has played for the Saints’ varsity the last two seasons, going 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA and 35 strikeouts as a freshman and 8-0 with a 2.58 ERA and 59 Ks (in 57 innings) last season.
“He’s the kind of kid who is going to work as hard as he can to be the best no matter what he’s playing,” Parks said. “He’s a great athlete to begin with, but his work ethic makes him different than most other guys. He’s also great in the classroom – just a classy kid to have in your program.”
Which is what LSU coaches and fans are hoping can be said of Pint and the Tigers in a few years.
The relationship between the program and Pint blossomed while he was starring last summer, but he had LSU in mind long before that.
Growing up a few hours south of Omaha, Pint has been a regular visitor to the College World Series with his father Neil Pint, who played baseball at Iowa State. That means he is no stranger to the Tigers’ prominent place in the world of college baseball.
So when Pint met LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn and then first-year recruiting coordinator Andy Cannizaro, some dots were quickly and easily connected.
“LSU has always been a historic program and I always wanted to be a part of that tradition,” Pint said. “When I realized they were interested in me, it all kind of fell into place. It’s a dream for me to pitch in the College World Series and there’s no place better to do that than LSU.”
Dunn is also a big part of the equation.
Since he got to LSU, Dunn has tutored a pitching staff that has constantly been among the best in the country all four seasons and has been bolstered by the SEC Pitcher of the Year the last three — Kevin Gausman in 2012 and Aaron Nola each of the last two seasons.
Gausman was the No. 3 pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, while Nola went No. 7 last June.
“He was such a big impact on the recruiting process because he’s such a good coach,” Pint said. “His resume speaks for itself. You want to play for a guy like that when you get to this stage.”
Pint also wants to play in a program where he knows the competition will be stiff.
The Tigers’ current freshman class is anchored by five freshmen pitchers all likely to be drafted someday and four of them are in the mix for weekend starting spots in 2015, including Alex Lange, who also hails from the Kansas City area.
That’s the kind of environment Pint wants to step into.
“I’m looking forward to get the opportunity to be in contention with guys like that,” Pint said. “When I play there, I know I can compete with anybody.”
Will Pint ever be in that situation, though? That’s where the crossroads comes into play.
Barring a major injury, Pint should be a high draft pick in 2016, quite possibly a first-rounder.
If, like several of LSU’s current freshmen did, Pint makes it clear he wants to play college baseball, he could ostensibly price himself out of the first round. Or if the lure of pro ball is strong enough, Pint could let teams know what he expects as a signing bonus with LSU as a valuable bargaining chip.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the draft and LSU; that’s a family decision,” Parks said. “But I do know he’s always said that LSU is where he wants to go. There has never been a second choice. It just so happened that they came into the picture when they did because we had heard from several programs about him last year.”
Now, those calls have dried up because Pint caught the eye of the only college suitor he was interested in.
And sometime soon, the lanky young pitcher who already wears a size 14 shoe will start to weigh his options. But he won’t obsess over it between now and then. Not with two sports to keep him busy.
“I’m just going to let the process play out and see what happens,” he said. “It’s my dream to play in the College World Series for LSU, but it’s also my dream to play pro baseball. Whichever direction it takes me is where I’ll go.”