As June’s major-league draft looms, the attention on St. Thomas Aquinas right-hander Riley Pint and his friend, Shawnee Mission East left-hander Joey Wentz, has intensified.
The two are projected to go early in the first round, with Pint in the conversation to become the first high school right-hander taken No. 1 as well as the first Kansan to be drafted first overall. Some mock drafts have Wentz being selected just outside the top 10.
Pint (6-foot-5, 220 pounds)has thrown 101 mph and has allowed one run in 28 innings this spring while striking out 52. Wentz (6-5, 210), who throws 95 mph and has 74 strikeouts, didn’t allow a hit in his first 23 innings this season. He has given up two hits and hasn’t allowed a run in 36 innings.
It’s a busy time, rife with media interviews and conversations with major-league clubs. But one reason it’s not stressing out either pitcher is their friendship.
The two are longtime friends who played on the same summer team in 2015 and work out together.
Aquinas’ Riley Pint has signed with LSU, while SM East’s Joey Wentz has signed with Virginia.
“We’ve played baseball and basketball together,” Wentz said. “So we’ve known each other a long time. Having the opportunity to work out with him and train with him was fun. It makes for a competitive atmosphere. I want what’s best for him and he wants what’s best for me. It’s nice because I know he’s always going to push me and make me better.”
Both gave up basketball last season in order to focus on readying themselves for the baseball season and the draft.
They spent four days a week throwing and doing strength training, and then they hit three times a week.
2, 0Hits, runs Wentz has allowed
10, 1Hits, runs Pint has allowed
“I’ve gained a lot of good weight, just working out a lot,” Pint said. “That’s helped me maintain my velocity throughout the whole game. It was tough not being out there playing basketball.… but I was really prepared for my first start of the season. I could have gone as many innings as I wanted to, but we won in three innings.”
Pint threw 92-93 mph as a sophomore and 96-98 as a junior. He has an improving changeup, which is about 8-10 mph slower than his fastball. He also throws a curveball and a knuckle curve.
“He’s just an all-round good player,” Aquinas coach Lorne Parks said. “… His velocity is the main thing and his size, but you also throw in the other things — his athletic ability and his poise on the mound.”
Wentz also saw improvement from the focused workouts.
“His velocity is up about 5 mph from last year,” SM East coach Jerrod Ryherd said. “That’s a pretty significant increase. And he’s sharper and crisper than last year. I think it’s all the work he’s put in, just really refining his skill has put him in that elite status.”
The offseason workouts solidified a friendship that already had a solid base. Both played in the 2015 Under Armour All-American game at Wrigley Field, where Pint struck out Wentz in a televised game. They still see each other about twice a week at workouts, although their Johnson County schools do not play each other.
.600, 28Pint’s batting average, RBIs
.383, 5Wentz’s batting average, doubles
“It’s nice to have someone who knows the situation and is going through the same stuff and someone who has the same goal and same dream as you do, too,” Wentz said. “It’s tough at times because there’s a lot of attention when sometimes you just want to play. But it’s fun to play in front of new people and new faces.”
Pint has the added attention from being a subject in the new book “The Arm,” in which it details how Pint’s coaches have worked to keep his arm healthy.
“We are pretty careful with him,” Parks said. “Last year we might have thrown him every five days. This year it’s, ‘How’s your arm feel?’ If it goes over five days, it goes over five. We’re not going to put him in a position where we overuse him.”
But it’s important to keep Pint in the lineup because of his bat — he has a .600 batting average with 28 RBIs — and because he’s a sure-handed second baseman.
I really didn’t start thinking about (the draft) until last summer. I felt like everything was starting to click. I was getting invited to all these events, throwing in front of a lot of scouts.
He hit a grand slam in Aquinas’ first game, but didn’t keep the ball. Pint told Parks that “ ‘a little kid brought it over to me, and I told him to keep it,’ ” Parks said. “The kid hung around and Riley signed it for him after the game.”
Wentz, also a first baseman, was known more as a hitter before this season. He participated in the Junior Home Run Derby at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park last July before the All-Star home run derby. He hit eight home runs.
“His sophomore year he led the state in home runs,” Ryherd said. “He gets pitched around a lot now, but he’s a tremendous hitter.”
Wentz’s pitching has taken center stage, especially after he opened the season with 23 hitless innings before giving up a hit against Free State.
He was a walk away from a perfect game against Blue Valley North on March 23.
I might throw harder than the average pitcher in Kansas, but give people two, three times in the order, they can hit velocity. So for me, it was to throw the changeup and breaking ball and locate up and down, in and out.
“Most of his pitches are 92, 93 mph,” Ryherd said. “His fastball moves a lot and has a good downward angle. He throws strikes with three pitches — four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup.
“… “It’s just unrealistic to think that you can throw 23, 24 innings without getting hit — but he did it. It’s almost to the point where you think he’ll go out there every game and throw a no-hitter and we’ll win.”
Pint and Wentz both have personal goals, but their team goals mirror each other’s.
“My No. 1 goal is to definitely win a (Class 6A) championship,” said Wentz, who has signed collegiately with Virginia. “I have personal goals, but by putting team first and teammates before yourself, it makes it easier to reach those goals.”
“I’m focused on the high school season,” said Pint, whose team is 15-1. “We’ve been playing pretty good. We won a (Class 5A) championship two years ago, and I hope to get back to that and hopefully win another one.”
Whatever happens will happen.
“I’m looking at it as LSU is where I’m going. If anything else happens with the draft, I’ll weigh in those options,” Pint said.