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2020 BYB Tigers Prospects #3: Riley Greene is already making his presence felt

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The teenager has been a sensation early in Grapefruit League play.

New York Mets v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers third ranked prospect on our top 30 list is doing a great job of introducing himself to fans this spring. Twice he’s been brought over from minor league camp for Grapefruit League action, and twice he’s made his presence felt like no one else on the roster. As the brightest hope for a future Tigers’ lineup, there are a lot of eyes on Riley Greene now, but he’s showing every sign of being up to the task.

In five plate appearances, the 19-year-old has walked three times and cracked a pair of home runs. A nice running catch onto the warning track in right field allowed him to show off his speed and defensive ability. It’s been an eye-popping start, and even normally taciturn players and coaches have visibly impressed.

Of course, we’re also talking about just two games in late February. Greene is well worth being excited about, but patience is also advised. As he shoots up top 100 lists, and the fanbase buzzes over his potential, it’s a good time for a reintroduction.

Background

Greene grew up a Florida kid and played his high school ball for Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, which also produced Philadelphia Phillies’ starter Zach Eflin. Greene’s father Alan was a hitting instructor and young Riley grew up in the batting cages. It shows in his precociously smooth, powerful swing and advanced approach.

Greene was already looked at as a possible first round talent after his junior season, and he continued to thrive against the toughest competition. His performance in the 2018 Pan-American games as part of Team USA’s gold medal winning squad was part of a huge year that really solidified his position as the best pure hitter in his prep class. Greene posted a 1.396 OPS and mashed three home runs in just nine games for Team USA.

As the 2019 season got underway, it became clear that Greene was going to be a top ten pick, and he was generally ranked right around the fifth spot, where the Tigers eventually selected him. The club paid him a signing bonus of $6.8 million and sent him to rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League. He wasn’t there long.

Greene quickly showed himself more than a match for the GCL, and did the same in short season A-ball with the Connecticut Tigers. His production finally cooled when he reached West Michigan for a 24 game stay with the Whitecaps.

Greene himself admitted he was starting to run out of gas after almost a full year of pressure and travel, and it showed with some uncharacteristic impatience at the plate. Still, Greene looked comfortable, and put together a nice little highlight reel playing mostly in center field. All signs point to a successful 2020 ahead with him progressing through the A-ball levels.

Strengths

Riley Greene is a precocious hitter with a beautiful swing and developing plus power. He showed better than expected speed and defensive ability in his pro debut, and an average arm. His instincts in the outfield are already sound and should improve in time. Greene does a lot of things well, and nothing poorly.

Greene’s hit tool drives the profile. He has well-honed mechanics and a line drive oriented stroke that helps him drive the gaps and use the whole field. The batspeed is plus already, with Greene showing good hip to shoulder separation and the ability to keep the barrel on plane well through the hitting zone. And as we’ve already seen this spring, he can go down and loft low pitches over the fence or lean back and crush fastballs up in the zone. He draws above average to plus raw grades for his power already, and shows signs that he’s fully capable of hitting the upper end of those projections.

He pulls it all together with good feel for the barrel and an advanced approach. Greene is already fairly selective, and has the ability to think ahead of much more experienced pitchers. There is still a learning curve in recognizing and handling better breaking balls and changeups, but he’s advanced in that regard already, and his balance and good hands allow him to cover the whole zone, and adjust to spoil some pitches even when he’s initially fooled.

Defensively, Greene played in center field and right field in 2019, and that split duty may continue this season. He doesn’t have the speed of a future center fielder, but as Whitecaps’ fans saw last August, he’s very capable of making up for it with good jumps and overall athleticism allowing him to haul in balls at the limits of his range. He’ll end up in a corner in the majors, but he has the speed, acumen, and arm to be at least an average defender at either position.

Weaknesses

There isn’t really anything to call a true weakness here. However, if there’s a part of his game that’s been somewhat polarizing, it’s his speed. This time last year, plenty of draft watchers were grading him with below average speed, and wondering if that would hold him back a bit in terms of draft position. The thought was that Greene might lose a little speed as he fills out with negative impacts on his defensive value.

The jury is still out here, of course. Greene is only 19, but he’s fairly well built already and claims to have added 20 pounds of good muscle to his listed 6’3” frame since the season ended. He’s not likely to get much bigger than that, and so we’ll probably have a strong idea of his speed as a finished product soon. However, what seems clear is that a lot of the early draft reports on him last year turned out to be overly pessimistic about his speed.

Greene himself heard some of those critiques, and took them to heart last winter. He focused on his speed in training and put in extra defensive work to sharpen his fundamentals. It paid off, with speed grades in the average to above average range closer to the draft. There is work to be done defensively, but he hasn’t even played a season of pro ball yet. Expect him to continue to improve. Greene isn’t going to play center field in Comerica Park, and may graduate to the majors as just an average runner, but he should be a solid corner outfielder.

The only other major question about Greene revolves around his future home run power. Just about every major site projects a plus hit tool for him, and he’s forecast for plenty of hard contact. Some are just a little less enthusiastic about his home run power. FanGraphs gives Greene a 55 future raw power grade, for example. Probably anyone who saw Greene crushing BP fastballs into the Pepsi Porch in right field at Comerica Park will contend that the raw power here is being a bit underestimated. As he gets stronger, that hit tool should allow him to average 30 HR a year.

Projected 2020 team: Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps

Greene struggled a bit when he reached West Michigan last summer, so the odds are the Tigers will send him back there to start this season. While he’s probably capable of moving directly to the Florida State League, a player’s first full season is partly a crash course in handling the lifestyle of a professional ballplayer. That’s probably best accomplished away from home.

However, on his current trajectory it won’t be long until he’s back home in Florida. If you’re in West Michigan, don’t wait until June or July to get out to Fifth Third Ballpark or you may miss the boat. Greene is a good bet to level up to the Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers by summer, and there’s an outside chance he gets a taste of the Double-A level by year’s end if everything goes perfectly.