Discovering Riley Pint started long before now, hours before he’s projected to go within the first five picks of the MLB Draft, which starts at 6 p.m. Thursday.
In his first fall as LSU’s recruiting coordinator and hitting coach, Andy Cannizaro first saw this 6-foot-5 right-hander who throws fastballs in excess of 100 mph with startling regularity. Pint was a veteran of just two high school baseball seasons, a typical age for baseball recruits to begin being seen.
“I thought he looked like a young Josh Beckett,” Cannizaro said. “There’s a lot of other games whose names pop into mind, but when I saw him, I thought Josh Beckett at that age.”
A day following the Tigers’ regional championship against Rice, Cannizaro fidgets in his office while thumbing through messages on an iPhone. A player waits in the team’s indoor batting cages, requiring Cannizaro’s instruction and incitement to erase the feeling of a subpar regional weekend.
Cannizaro was the New York Yankees MLB Draft representative in 2013 and 2014, the final two years of a six-year stint as an amateur scout for baseball’s most prestigious franchise. Now as a Tiger, the draft adds a murky layer to his team’s biggest week of the season.
Pint is the jewel of Cannizaro’s 16-man 2017 signing class — all of which could be selected in the three-day draft that ends just before the Tigers’ super regional opener against Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
“You’re always wearing two hats but it really comes to fruition when the draft is here and you’ve spent years talking with these kids and families about LSU and talking about coming to school,” Cannizaro said. “Now the draft is here and they have to make a decision: Are they willing to walk away from 5, 6, 7, $800,000 or $1 million.”
Both the hitting coach and his boss are supreme realists, especially when discussing Pint, who is ranked No. 2 among Baseball America’s Top 500 draft prospects and will not fall past the top 10 picks.
Pint throws with an effortless arm action, a physical presence with good spin rate on his curveball. Scouts scrutinize his every move, reporting the 18-year-old’s reached as high as 102 mph.
“A lot of organizations have invested a lot of time, a lot of effort into scouting him,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “For him to pull out of the draft now would be so far-fetched of an idea that I wouldn’t plan on him coming to school. If it works out for him the way that he wants it to, I wish him nothing but the best. He’s a great kid, would have loved to have had him, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get him.”
Mainieri also reaffirmed what he’s long stated — he “doesn’t doubt” juniors Jake Fraley and Jared Poche will forgo their senior seasons and sign professionally.
Fraley is No. 66 in Baseball America’s Top 500, seen as a second- or third-round pick. Poche is No. 239 and the grizzled left-hander will likely be a top-10 round selection.
“We have several more wild cards in this year’s group of current players,” Mainieri said. “There’s a handful of guys that we just don’t know what’s going to happen. At least in a few of the cases, it’s going to be up to the player. Does he want to sign now or does he want to come back and sign after next year? There will be a couple cases where we don’t know if they’ll be drafted or not. So we’ll just have to sit and wait and see what happens.”
Mainieri neglects to speculate, or even name, specific wild card players and signees. Drafting is such an inexact science, he says, that to theorize on one could be misleading to both the player and the public.
He’s called players like Kevin Gausman and Alex Bregman “long shots” to attend college, only to coach both. He didn’t even think Evangel Christian product Hayden Jennings was on anyone’s draft board in 2012.
The Washington Nationals drafted Jennings in the sixth round, targeting a player under slot value so the organization could throw money at its early-round draft picks.
“You think it’s an exact science because they do so many reports, they scout them so well and try to quantify their stuff, but crazy things happen on draft day,” Mainieri said.
Not including Fraley and Poche and excluding the Tigers’ two seniors, LSU has 13 draft eligible players to go along with that 16-man signing class. Eight of those 16 are ranked in the Baseball America Top 500.
It is business as usual for a six-time national championship program.
“It’s every year regardless of who’s in this chair or not,” Cannizaro said. “If we’re signing the right guys that can help LSU win a national championship, they’re going to get interest in professional baseball.”
“If we have a signing class full of guys that have zero interest from Major League baseball, we’re not going to be able to get the guys that are going to help us win at the level that we want to win at, play on the national stage, get to Omaha and win a national championship.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome