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Tigers prospect Grayson Greiner explains how a swing change led to a breakout 2016 season

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BYB sat down with the Tigers’ top catching prospect, who is currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The most satisfying story in baseball — or life, really — is a comeback story. Evidence of this can be seen in just how psyched Chicago Cubs fans are at the potential of a World Series victory after over a century without a ring.

One of the best comeback stories in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system is defense-first catcher Grayson Greiner, drafted out of South Carolina in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft. After a terrible 2015 season in which he hit .183/.254/.504 with a 57 wRC+, he turned things around in 2016 and hit a cumulative .293/.339/.763. He posted a 126 wRC+ in Lakeland and a 111 wRC+ in Double-A Erie. He is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League and doing well.

He was kind enough to speak with me on Sunday. Here is how the interview went.

Bless You Boys: The first thing I wanted to ask you about is the season that just ended. You obviously had a pretty fantastic year. Did you deliberately do anything different?

Grayson Greiner: I made a couple swing changes in the offseason. I had a bad year in 2015, so I realized I needed to make some changes, so I added a little leg kick in my swing for timing. I just worked really hard over the offseason to put together a good year this year. It paid off pretty well for me.

BYB: Did those swing changes contribute at all to the extra power you seemed to have this year?

GG: I’ve always had the power, I just struggled to put it in games. Once I got some confidence in my swing, I could start looking for pitches to drive a little bit more. Towards the end of the season I started putting up a little better power numbers and hopefully I can continue to build on that, continue to do that. I’m just worried about trying to hit the ball hard every time; the power numbers will come.

BYB: What do you think the best part of your game is? Is it your offense that you recently retooled or is it your defense? You’ve always been touted as a defense-first catcher, but you put up some really good offensive numbers last season.

GG: It’ll always be my defense. Since I started catching, I’ve always put a lot of emphasis on my defense. A lot of people think that catcher is the most important position on the field, so I try to be flawless back there. I put a lot of time into working my craft back there, so offense is just a bonus to me. As far as being a catcher goes, I want to be perfect and help my pitchers out as much as possible. I will always be a defense-first catcher in my mind.

BYB: One important part of defense that can help or hurt your pitcher is game calling. How difficult is game calling? Is it an easy skill to learn?

GG: I like to think I’m fairly intelligent when it comes to studying baseball. I’ve been watching it since was a little kid. In college, we didn’t call our own pitches, so right when I got to pro ball, it was a little bit of an adjustment. But I’ve been doing it for two and a half years now, and I think I’ve definitely improved as far as my pitch calling. You know, you try not to get in any patterns or anything like that, but I always go over the opposing hitters with the starting pitcher before the game and try to have a plan going into each inning. So as long as you’re prepared and have a plan going into the game, that makes pitch calling much, much easier.

BYB: While the Tigers are known for having good starting pitching, they are particularly thin when it comes to catchers. Do you think that your developmental track has changed at all after how well you did this year?

GG: I have no idea. That’s up to the Detroit Tigers. I’m just gonna work as hard as I can this offseason to get myself in good condition. After such a bad year in 2015, I tried not to get too down on myself. I think the Tigers still had faith in me that I would have a turnaround season, and thankfully I did. Hopefully that put me on the right track, and it’s my goal to get to the big leagues as soon as possible, and I’m gonna do whatever I can to put myself in that position as soon as possible.

BYB: That mental part you mentioned, not getting too down on yourself, how important is that to a ballplayer?

GG: Oh, it’s extremely important. Some people say baseball is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. It’s just a really hard game, so you have to try and stay positive all the time. I mean, even the best hitters in the world are gonna fail seven times out of ten, so you gotta have a positive mindset because the game is set up to make you fail, so you have to have a positive mindset all the time. Yeah, it’s a huge part of the game.

BYB: If staying positive is such an important part of the game, what helped you stay positive after your poor 2015 season?

GG: I’ve always had confidence in myself as a player and believed in myself. I saw 2015 as a terrible year, but it’s in the past, there’s nothing I can do about it, so there’s nothing I can do about it. The past is the past, so I just worked that much harder in the offseason to put myself in a good position in 2016. I’ve always been a very positive person; I don’t like to ever beat down on myself. I had confidence I was a good player, I just had to put it out there on the field.

BYB: Are there any catchers in the big leagues that you try to model your game after?

GG: I watch Matt Wieters a lot because he’s about my height and he’s from South Carolina, which is where I’m from. So when he broke into the big leagues, I was always a fan of his. I like watching Buster Posey catch, I like watching Yadier Molina. I mean there’s just so many good catchers in the major leagues that you can model yourself after, but it’s a little different because I’m 6’6 and there’s not a lot of tall guys, but Matt Weiters is one of the taller catchers out there, so I always like to watch how he plays.

BYB: I’m glad you mentioned your height it is kind of the elephant in the room because I wanted to ask you about that. As you have gotten taller, have you had to change the way you play defensively to accommodate that? If so, how?

GG: I never really let it effect me, I try to just play how I’ve always played. Thankfully my body has held up this far, being a 6’6 catcher, and hopefully it continues to hold up. I try to work hard during the offseason and during season to keep my body healthy.

BYB: Would you say that momentum from your spectacular 2016 season is what has allowed you to get such a hot start in the Arizona Fall League?

GG: Yeah. The fact that I finished the season on such a high note — I swung the bat well there at the end of the season — the fact that I did that really helped me prepare for the fall league. Some of the best competition that we can face in the minor leagues is here, so I worked really hard in the couple weeks I had leading up to it. I’ve had a positive mindset out here and it’s helped me to get off to a hot start, and our team’s winning games, so that’s always fun. It’s been a good experience so far.

BYB: Has it been difficult transitioning to a sort of conglomerate team, a team made up of players from all over?

GG: It’s a little different because a lot of these guys you play against, you say hello to them, but you’re not really friends with them, and now we’re all teammates, you’re in it for the same thing, you get to become really good friends with all these guys. I’ve formed a lot of bonds with them. So far our team’s had amazing chemistry, and that lets us get along real well, we play together real well, so it’s kinda like a season-long fall All-Star Game, a lot of excellent players from other organizations. It’s a really cool experience, so I’m glad the Detroit Tigers selected me to come out here and get to experience it.