Riley Pint has a golden arm and a sky-high ceiling. The 20-year-old right-hander reaches triple digits, which helped prompt the Colorado Rockies to take him fourth overall in the 2016 draft. He’s the best pitching prospect in the system and a potential big-league ace.
The numbers don’t reflect that. Since signing out of an Overland Park, Kansas, high school, Pint is 3-16 with a 5.40 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP. This past season, he walked 59 batters in 93 innings at Low-A Asheville. To say he’s a work in progress would qualify as an understatement.
Are the Rockies concerned? I asked Zach Wilson, the club’s director of player development, for his appraisal of the youngster’s development.
Zach Wilson on Pint: “Numbers are numbers, and in the development world, they don’t tell the whole story. As a matter of fact, they tell very little of the story. Walking  guys in fewer than 100 innings is going to raise a red flag to somebody staring at a stat line, but this was a 19-year-old in his first full season — and we were aggressive with him. The numbers weren’t a concern to us whatsoever. This was just a small part of the global developments scenario for Riley. He made strides.
“A lot of the strides came from adjustments we made to his delivery, trying to refine the consistency. We wanted him staying over the rubber a little bit longer. We were making sure his line was a little better and that he was getting the ball out of his glove in a more consistent and timely fashion.
“You need the games, regardless of the results, to help you start gaining that consistency. Does it always come to fruition right out of the gate? No, it takes patience and time, but in the development world our best commodity is time. He’s young and still growing into his body.
“In the same mold, we also took away some pitches. That’s probably the reason we didn’t see the strikeout numbers people were expecting — even though he did punch out his fair share [79 in 93 innings]. We made sure that he focused on his fastball command. When you do that, you don’t see the strikeout numbers that he’s certainly capable of, and that he’ll accrue as he continues to move up the ladder — certainly when he pitches at the big-league level.
“He had a positive ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio, which is great, and he’s got a ton of movement on that upper-90s fastball. There’s just a lot to learn. I think that anybody who took him in the draft knew there were going to be some delivery adjustments that needed to be made and that it would take time to make them. I think it would be a mistake, and a disservice, to say, ‘Well, he’s not developing as he needs to, because his numbers weren’t good.’ Like I said, it’s a very small part of the pie. There have been a boatload of superstar major leaguers who had up-and-down numbers at the minor-league level.
“Eventually the numbers are going to matter. But eventually the numbers will be there, because of the talent he has. It’s just about honing, and putting your arms around, that talent so the ball is coming out of his hand consistently.
“He went through long stretches of starts where he was majority fastball/change. We limited the amount of secondary pitches he could throw — more so the curveball and the slider. He did have the ability to throw those pitches in games. It wasn’t as though we said, ‘Those are completely out of your repertoire right now.’ In the curveball case it was, ‘You’ve got eight to 10 curveballs a game; use them as you see fit. We’ll help you with that — the catcher will help you with that — but let’s focus on some other things right now.’
“There are steps that need to be taken before anybody says, ‘Hey, go out and do whatever you need to do to get everybody out.’ At this level, it’s not about getting everybody out. As we go on, we’re going to start allowing more of a pitch mix, allowing more creativity in getting people out.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about the numbers at Asheville. When he’s pitching at the big-league level, yeah, then it’s about the numbers. Here it’s about getting incrementally better so that in four, five years from now — whatever it might be — he’s the No. 1 starter in the majors that he has a chance to be. That’s what we’re trying to create: a major-league No. 1 starter, not a Low-A No. 1 starter.
“His curveball and slider both have a chance to be plus major-league pitches. In fact, the curveball is a plus pitch right now. The consistency isn’t plus, but it’s a plus pitch in terms of action and what it can do.
“He’s obviously got the fastball. It’s a four-seam, but it’s a four-seamer with action. It’s actually got some natural sink to it, especially to his arm side. He would consistently sit 96-98, and he would hit triple digits.
“I don’t think [velocity] is something he really thinks about. I know that youngsters will sometimes get caught up in that, but Riley has been throwing that way for a long time. He knows that he can naturally create velocity, so it’s not something where he’s got to flip his head and look at the scoreboard to see what it was after every pitch. That’s not him. He’s a smart kid.
“Again, he was 19 years old and in his first full season. The expectations are high, because of where he was taken in the draft and the type of stuff he has, but it’s a dangerous game to play to go, ‘OK, he should be doing all this right now.’ No. That’s not fair to him, and it’s not fair to what goes on in the development process.
“Everybody wants to talk about the numbers. Any player, regardless of where he is, or what side of the ball he’s on, is going to look at his numbers. That’s what baseball players do. Right? That’s what observers of baseball do. But when you’re behind the scenes, you’re dealing with developing a pitcher, not for today but for four years from now. That’s the way we should be looking at his career right now. The numbers don’t matter.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.