Riley Cornelio never seriously considered an ultra-conservative approach to protect his prized right arm.
In an age where college football players routinely skip bowl games to protect their NFL Draft stock and many wondered why Zion Williamson would risk his NBA value to return from injury for Duke, the Pine Creek star knew all along that he’d try to help his high school team win a title.
“I think we felt very confident with pitching this high school spring,” Cornelio said. “Every kid dreams of winning a state championship. I wanted to do what I could to help our team accomplish that."
Pine Creek fell short of that goal, departing in the 5A regional finals after a 17-8 season. Cornelio certainly did his part as he earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Colorado after going 7-2 with a 2.43 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 49 innings.
Cornelio didn’t need that final push to prove his value to pitch at the next level – be that at TCU or with a team that selects him in the MLB Draft that begins Monday with the first two rounds.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound righty throws a fastball consistently at 93 MPH, a velocity scouts believe will increase as he adds weight. His breaking ball is considered advanced for his age and his changeup, according to MLB.com, projects as a viable third pitch in the major leagues.
MLB.com ranks him as the No. 86 prospect in the draft, which could fetch a $700,000 bonus if it follows the slot value of the pick or run even higher because of leverage provided by his commitment to TCU.
“The problem is, we really love TCU,” said Cornelio, who spent this past weekend at a freshman orientation in Fort Worth. “That’s not a problem at all. It’s a problem for MLB teams that have been looking at me.”
Cornelio also has the negotiating advantage of knowing he’ll be sophomore eligible to re-enter the draft out of college. Most players who sign at four-year schools forgo their draft eligibility until following their junior seasons, but Cornelio’s age places him in position to leave after two years should that situation present itself.
All of this could either cause teams to pass on him to take a more easily signable player with one of their top selections, or result in a higher draft-day bonus.
“We’ve been kind of playing tough to get,” Cornelio said, fully aware of the risk-reward scenarios. “It may not fall exactly where I want to.”
With all of this maneuvering, it might seem reasonable that a player with this much at stake would have shied away from risk over these past few cold months and rested on the body of work he had already shown on the international level while representing Team USA.
But that wasn’t the case for this pitcher who has called Colorado Springs home since moving here at age 4 with his military family.
“I don’t think it was ever a conversation of sitting this year out,” Cornelio said. “Our number one goal was to win, so we went out and tried to do that.”