Baseball

One year later, top draft picks Riley Pint and Joey Wentz still tied together in minors

From his seat in the Asheville Tourists dugout in Western North Carolina, former St. Thomas Aquinas pitcher Riley Pint looked across the infield on Saturday afternoon and watched longtime friend Joey Wentz warm up with the Rome Braves before the second game of a weekend set.

It’s something Pint did regularly in the years he spent playing against Wentz, a high-caliber lefty in his own right, when he pitched for Shawnee Mission East.

Now the two of them are in the South Atlantic League, playing for the low Class A teams in the Rockies’ and Braves’ organizations and crossing paths every few weeks as South Division play heats up.

It’s almost like it was back then, before the Rockies picked Pint fourth overall and the Braves selected Wentz 40th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft.

“It’s just a friendship that you always keep,” said Pint. “He’s just a great guy. It’s kind of fun being in the same league as him, going through the same process as him.”

Wentz and Pint were at the center of every conversation about Midwestern prospects last year, and they stood to make history in the Kansas City area. Pint became the first high school pitcher from Kansas drafted in the opening round since Brian Holman (Wichita North) in 1983. Wentz became the only Shawnee Mission East player to be selected in the first round, in the 42nd year of the program’s existence.

But that was then.

These days, the 19-year-olds start every fifth day, not once a week like they did in high school, and actually have time to make mechanical adjustments between appearances.

Pint, with a fastball that still registers in the high 90s and hits triple digits, is working under an innings limit that will keep him from throwing even six frames until after the All-Star break in a few weeks.

Pint, who is 1-7 with a 3.98 ERA, has worked on locating his pitches better and cutting back on walks. He allowed five in his second start of the season and by mid-May had given up 18 free bases through 23  2/3 innings. In the four starts since, the Rockies’ fourth-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, issued seven walks over 17 innings.

“Minor league baseball is all process,” Pint said. “You’re not the only one who doesn’t get wins for a while or your ERA is not where you want it to be. … My stuff is pretty much the same, but I needed to get better mechanically, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job.”

Meanwhile, Wentz is trying to stretch himself out longer, going five innings in five of his 11 starts and six in an April start when he struck out seven and only allowed three hits. He has also been working to improve his curveball throughout the season, which has helped him strikeout 54 batters and only walk 13 over 48 innings.

“For any profession as soon as it becomes a job, it’s still fun to do, you still enjoy it, but you’re paid to get good results and do well,” said Wentz, who is 2-3 with a 3.56 ERA and ranked by MLB.com as the eighth-best prospect in the Braves’ second-rated farm system. “It’s more intense. But the opportunities are greater than they were in high school.”

Still, not everything has changed. Pint and Wentz check in regularly, texting after outings and comparing progress. If one is visiting for a series, they’ll make a point to get dinner every night — like they did Friday, after Pint pitched against the Braves in Asheville and took a loss.

Their friendship provides normalcy, something to keep them grounded in the face of seemingly endless bus rides and constant change.

Almost like it was back then. But not quite.

“It was cool in high school to go through the same process with a friend and kind of know what was going on,” Wentz said. “Now, it’s cool to just be able to watch some of his outings. He’s obviously a really good player. But it’s fun to see each other. …It’ll hopefully be cool to look back in a few years at it.”

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