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2019 Tigers Review: Grayson Greiner let opportunity slip through his fingers

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Gifted the starting job in 2019, Greiner did little to convince anyone he has a long-term role to play in the major leagues.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

The year was 2015. According to MLB Pipeline Michael Fulmer and Steven Moya were the best prospects in the Detroit Tigers system. Scroll down to number 13 on that list, and sitting right behind Dixon Machado, you’ll find Grayson Greiner.

Without copying the scouting report verbatim, it says the same things you think it does. He’s got some defensive skill despite his size, and he has a lot to prove offensively. At the time though, he was the future of Detroit Tiger backstops. His only competition on that list was Arvicent Perez.

Fast forward to 2019 and Greiner was minted the Tigers Opening Day catcher after getting a taste of the MLB in 2018. He played a total of 58 games, compiling a -0.9 fWAR, 45 wRC+, and .242 wOBA. Add to that a 31.3 percent strikeout rate. In other words, he wasn’t great offensively, even by catcher standards.

What went right in 2019?

There is not a lot to put in the win column.

Greiner’s value is in his defense. That is what the scouting reports all indicated. According to Baseball Savant, his pop time is above average for anyone with at least five attempts to second base. In fact, he is tied for 17th in the league at 1.97 seconds. The only problem is that his direct organizational competition, Rogers, is sitting handily in second at 1.91 seconds.

Pop time is not the only measurement of defensive value of a catcher, but it does show that Greiner did have something positive. In terms of a small look at his framing ability, Greiner had the best average strike rate on the team of 47.5 percent, barely edging out Rogers’ 47.2 percent. League average is 48.4 percent.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Greiner was slightly below average at -2.4 framing runs. But he did grade out as basically average in blocking and throwing per their proprietary metrics.

What went wrong?

To make things as broad as possible, Greiner was worth -16.3 Offensive runs above average and -1.0 defensive runs above average. According to Fangraphs, nothing about his season was positive, especially not with the bat.

But, on a semi-positive note, his 5.8 walk percentage was good for ninth on Tigers among players with at least 100 PA. Of course that’s still below league average. Greiner also had a small bright spot in terms of expected wOBA, if only for a moment. The trend was at least moving in the right direction by season’s end.

That bright spot comes because of an overall solid September. After putting up just mediocre, at best, numbers throughout the year he really caught (relative) fire for the playoff push...okay, September.

Greiner received pretty consistent playing time early in the year. He had 64 plate appearances in April, 65 in May, then it drops off until 54 in September. That drop off is because of a back injury he sustained that put him on the shelf in mid-June. He started rehabbing in mid-August. Once he came back from the IL, he was optioned to Toledo until September. On a completely related note Jake Rogers was promoted to the majors on July 30th.

But, again, who could blame the Tigers? Before September, the best numbers Greiner put up culminated in a 68 wRC+ and that was back in March and April. In May he was worth 11 wRC+, which is horrific. At his peak in September, when he slashed .321/.321/.396, he was worth 86 wRC+ which would make him a slightly above average offensive catcher if he could sustain it.

Some of what made Greiner an exciting (relatively) prospect back in the day was some potential untapped power based purely on his size. He even showed some of that with his 14 home runs in 2017. However, that is an outlier at this point. Greiner’s 2019 total was five in the majors, seven if you include his 13 games in Toledo.

What’s next?

He showed he can get hot here and there, but those good stretches also articulated the likely ceiling of his offensive abilities, which is quite low. He showed his worth with the glove. Unfortunately for him, it probably doesn’t matter either way. The presence of Rogers and his much better pedigree, and the excitement of his potential, makes Greiner’s life a whole lot tougher.

In terms of Greiner’s future, well the future still isn’t very bright. There is some interest in seeing if he could build off that streak in September to prove his worth as a major league catcher. But that doesn’t appear to be in the cards heading into 2020. At least not to start with.

Theoretically, Greiner comes to camp in the Spring vying for the starting role he once had. Realistically, that role will be handed to Rogers, barring a major surprise. Rogers, at least for now, is the future at the catcher position for the Tigers. That likely puts Greiner in competition to be a backup with whoever shows up to camp to challenge him for the role. As Greiner was always even a longshot to be a major league backstop, this isn’t surprising.

As was the case with many of his teammates, 2019 was not kind to Grayson Greiner. But while he may not start next season in the majors, he’s going to have his opportunities. It will be incumbent upon him to show a better side to his game at the plate when he gets his chance. If he can’t, he’s looking at a career as the first man up from Toledo for a few years, and little beyond that.