There are as many avenues to professional baseball as there are players. For two Boise Hawks teammates, Joel Condreay and Riley Pint, their paths may be as different as any.
Joel Condreay was a really good shortstop at Whitworth. He hit .355 with two homers and 25 RBIs in 124 at-bats for the Pirates in his recently concluded senior year.
But the college ranks – especially the Division III level such as Whitworth – are full of good players that are passed over on MLB Draft day.
The scouts that came to see the Pirates play this season were there mostly to watch Condreay’s teammate, pitcher Hugh Smith, a 6-foot-10 right-hander who boasts a 96-mph fastball.
Smith was selected by the Detroit Tigers with the first pick in the sixth round, No. 165 overall.
As the picks came off the board on the third day of the draft, Condreay braced for the idea his name would not be called.
Then, in the 31st round, the Colorado Rockies selected Condreay with the 936th overall pick.
The catch? He was announced as a pitcher.
While Condreay pitched a mere 2 2/3 innings for Whitworth this season, the Rockies saw enough while scouting Smith that they were intrigued with the idea of Condreay as a pitcher.
“They saw my arm from shortstop and there were a handful of teams that wanted to see me off the mound,” Condreay said during batting practice before opening night on Friday at Avista Stadium. “That’s kind of how the ball got rolling.
“They thought that they could work with me on the mound and covert me into a pitcher. I’m thrilled for the opportunity.”
The Rockies organization is not going to rush Condreay at all. He did not appear in the first three games of the series.
“He possesses some arm strength. That’s first and foremost,” said Bob Apodaca, the Hawks pitching coach. “Our job is not to overwhelm him with something early.
“Our way of looking at newly drafted players is not to touch them for a month. We want to see what the scouts saw. The scouts saw something – that there is some major-league ability in some way in this young man.”
Apodaca should be able figure that out pretty quickly. He played four seasons for the New York Mets in the 1970s, but has been a scout, coach and administrator since 1981. He has been in the Rockies organization since 2002 and served as the big league pitching coach from 2003–12.
“This is all a crash course for him,” Apodaca said. “But there’s no fear. I talked to the scout that recommended him and (Condreay) is a baseball rat.
“That is a huge bonus when you have somebody that just loves the game of baseball. Those kind of young men are very coachable and malleable.”
Condreay is looking forward to the learning process and is ready to face the challenge head-on.
“I know that especially in my first pro year there’s going to be some pretty big ups and downs,” he said. “But I’m ready to go with the flow and work hard and approach it with the attitude that when I’m struggling, I’ll always move forward and make adjustments and hope it gets easier as it goes.”
Condreay was thrilled to find out he was assigned to Boise and would start his pro career in the city where he played college baseball.
“Yeah, what are the odds?” Condreay wondered. “I could have gone anywhere and the fact that I’m playing my first pro game in Spokane at Avista is pretty neat.”
It’s the first time Whitworth had two players drafted in the same draft.
“It’s a dream come true,” Condreay said. “As a kid you always think about it. You just want to play as long as you can. It’s pretty neat.”
Pint trying to live up to expectations
Riley Pint has always seemed destined for the big leagues.
Standing 6-foot-4, a lean but muscular 195 pounds, Pint was the Rockies first-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, fourth overall.
He was intensely scouted while in high school, possessing a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and near-MLB-ready curveball.
Like many hard-throwing high school prospects though, Pint’s path to the bigs won’t become clear until he can refine his control and command.
He’s learning that pitching isn’t all about arm strength in the pro ranks.
“It’s definitely different,” Pint admitted. “Hitters are definitely better. You can’t really try to blow a fastball by guys. You’ve got to pitch a little bit more.”
In 35 starts over two seasons and three levels, including Saturday’s game against Spokane, Pint has compiled a 3-18 record with a 5.47 ERA and 5.9 walks per nine innings.
“Expectations, you’re never really going to live up to them no matter how good you are,” Pint confessed. “I just want to go out there and just pitch to the best of my ability.”
While the walks are still an issue, there is a lot to like about Pint’s arsenal.
“Not too many people come along with that kind of ability,” said Apodaca. “He was 99 (mph), averaged 97 the other night. Has a curveball that is exceptional.
“Now it’s him and his belief system. And nobody can perform up to their ability if the belief system isn’t there.”
Apodaca said while Pint has some pro experience at this point, he is still learning how to transition his stuff into a complete package. After all, Pint won’t turn 21 until after the season.
“We can’t overcoach him,” Apodaca said. “That’s maybe one of the biggest mistakes that we make is in your anxiety to try to make somebody better, you feed him too much information and they lose that natural athleticism.
“You want an athlete on the mound,” Apodaca said. “He is an athlete. Now it’s just allowing that athleticism to come out.”
In his start against the Indians on Saturday, Pint struck out five over three innings, flashing that big fastball and plus curve. But he also walked four and gave up a run – though he did not allow a hit.
“For me, it’s just staying through the target and driving the ball through the target,” Pint explained. “I don’t try to overthrow. When I overthrow I pull off it a little bit early and try to make it even harder.”
Pint had a rough go of it in the first inning, walking three and throwing 28 pitches – even shaking his head and talking to himself on the mound on occasion.
“I was more mad at myself because I’ve been working really hard on trying to stay closed and not blowing open,” Pint explained. “I kind of caught myself a couple of times, especially that first inning doing that.
“It’s frustrating when you’ve worked on it for the past couple of weeks and you’re really trying to drive it home.”
He settled down nicely, according to Apodaca.
“He was just in a hurry (in the first inning),” Apodaca explained. “He faced a similar thing in the third inning where he had a base-stealer at first base, but now he was much more composed, much calmer. He was able to deliver pitches low in the strike zone. Was able to hit on a curveball.
“I’m taking that as a very, very positive first game for him.”
Pint explained the mid-game adjustments he made.
“I was just trying to mix it up a little bit. Mix in some curveballs for first-pitch strikes,” he said. “I threw a couple of changeups as well. It’s all about keeping hitters off balance and for me it’s the main thing.
“A lot of guys know that I like to throw fastballs, to get ahead with my fastball, so as long as I can mix in a curveball to start out a guy I’m going to do it.”
Did Apodaca say anything to his young protege about his frustration coming out on the mound?
“The only thing I said was ‘Where are we? What do we need to do?’ I don’t want the answers to come from me or information come from me. I want the information to come from him,” Apodaca said.
“I wanted to see what he thinks he needs to do. Then I’ll say ‘Well, how are we going to do that?’ I want him to verbalize the things he need to do. That way I think he’ll latch on to it and sink his teeth into it.”
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