Might the Blue Jays do an Elvis Luciano-type draft and stash in the 2020 Rule 5 draft with one of the most intriguing arms in minor league ball?
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There are a number of interesting arms available in tomorrow’s Rule 5 draft. Raymond Kerr of the Mariners is a lefty who can touch 100 mph. Brett de Gues of the Dodgers had a 1.16 ERA in single-A in 2019. Marcel Renteria of the Mets has a slider that can reach 3000 RPMs (which would be top-3 in the majors).
But I want to talk about someone else. A player who was drafted 4th overall in 2016, and who has stuff that has been described as among the best in the minors. And who is still only 23.
Let’s start by talking about his stuff. Fangraphs’ The Board has stats for 625 minor league pitchers. The Board rates them on the quality of their pitches, both right now and projected for the future. So let’s winnow them down a bit. Of the 625 pitchers they track, how many have a 70-grade fastball right now? 29 (and, as an aside, care to guess whose fastball they rate as #1, with an 80 grade?). Riley makes that cut, with an elite 70-grade fastball that sits 97-99 and touches 102 mph. So let’s keep going. How many of those 29 also have a 60-grade slider, right now? The list gets shorter in a hurry – only 7 of the 29 qualify … including Riley (and also including Nate, if you were wondering). And as a final cut, how many of the Magnificent Seven also have a 70-grade curveball? Only one – Riley Pint.
So why in the name of Moonlight Graham are the Rockies making such a talent available? How can they possibly not protect him? Well, Riley has <ahem> “a flaw”. His control is not good. As in a MiLB career BB/9 over 9 (and over 15 in a small sample in 2019). As in more wild pitches (18) than innings pitched (17.2) in 2019. We are talking Rick Vaughn pre-glasses bad (well, maybe not quite THAT bad).
So it comes down to a gamble. Hopefully the Jays have scouted Pint, both in 2016 pre-draft and more recently, and they have ideas as to how they might fix him if he were in their organization. If the Jays were to take Pint in this years Rule 5, they would have to pay $50,000 and keep him on the major league roster all year, or return him to Colorado for a $25,000 refund. The money should not be a major issue, but using a roster spot could well be, particularly in a year in which the Jays hope to contend. But Toronto could pull a Luciano, using Pint at the back of the bullpen in 2021 in mop-up and blow-out duty. Someone needs to pitch the ~meaningless innings. If the Jays did so, they could return Pint to the minors in 2022. In the worst-case scenario, if they deem Riley to be irrevocably broken, they just return him to Colorado and eat the net $25,000 cost. But claiming him now, in December, would also give the Jays a chance to work with him over the next three months (before – hopefully! – 2021 spring training) and in spring training, to see if the gamble is justified.
It is possible that Pint could be taken by another team before the Jays pick 20th overall in the Rule 5 (assuming they have a roster spot open). But, if the Jays really wanted Pint, they could do what Texas did in 2018. The Rangers wanted Jays’ reliever Jordan Romano, so they struck a deal with the White Sox (who were drafting third) to take Romano and immediately trade him to Texas for cash considerations. Toronto could strike a similar deal with some team earlier in the 2020 draft order.
Some years ago, the Jays had many holes in their roster and they spoke of “raising the floor”. That was, in my view, the right thing to do at that time. But the team is in a different place now, and filling holes with 1-2 fWAR players is unlikely to take them to the next level. They now need to focus their efforts on acquiring the elite talents that take teams to the playoffs and beyond. In the case of younger players, that frequently entails taking a gamble, and looking for players with low floors but crazy-high ceilings. Riley Pint is that kind of player.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.