There hasn’t been much in the way of good news to report from the Detroit Tigers this season, but this weekend just got a lot more fun. On Friday afternoon, the club announced that their top prospect, outfielder Riley Greene will be called up for his major league debut on Saturday against the Texas Rangers. Outfielder Austin Meadows will move to the COVID list, opening a spot for Greene.
The Tigers selected Greene with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft out of high school. He’s done nothing but impress in pro ball. The sweet swinging lefty moved through three levels post draft, and put on a show in spring training the next year before COVID shut camp and then the minor leagues, down for the year.
In 2021, Greene was a one man wrecking crew at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels as he and Spencer Torkelson moved together to Toledo in August of 2021. Greene hit eight home runs in 40 games with a 153 wRC+ while playing good defense in center field and right field. The only fly in the ointment was a higher strikeout rate than is optimal, striking out 27 percent of the time last year, but as a 20 year old already closing in on the major leagues.
Our own Trevor Hooth wrote this report back in January as we named Greene the Tigers top prospect on our Bless You Boys top 30 prospects list.
Obviously things didn’t go as planned this spring. Greene was on fire in camp, hitting .429 with two home runs and seven total extra base hits in only 11 games. He was a lock to start the season in the major leagues, but he fouled a pitch off his right foot facing the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole at the beginning of April as the shortened spring training camp neared its end. The resulting fracture put him out of action for nearly two months. The injury also necessitated a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays that sent Isaac Paredes to Tampa in exchange for corner outfielder Austin Meadows.
Riley Greene returned to action on May 27 for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, and has settled in over the past two weeks. In 15 games, he’s posted a strikeout rate of 20.6 percent to a walk rate of 8.8 percent, hitting one home run and four doubles, while stealing three bags.
He looks quite ready for the promotion, and it was good that the Tigers gave him about three weeks to get his timing back and test out the repaired right foot. All systems appear to be a go, and a moment we’ve been excited about since the day he was drafted is now nearly upon us.
Greene doesn’t quite carry the raw power than Spencer Torkelson does, but there’s a good chance that Riley is the better pure hitter of the two. He still has a few minor holes in his swing, but overall he’s handle Triple-A pitching too easily, at too young at age, to leave him down there.
Defensively, questions remain about his ability to play a good center field in the majors, particularly in one of the largest outfields in the game, but he should be at least solid out there despite pretty average speed. Greene gets good jumps and makes up for a lack of true center fielder speed that way, and by his ability to close on baseballs and haul them in at the edges of his range. In the long run, we still think he’ll move to right field as he fills out a little more, but for now he should provide the Tigers with a pretty dynamic two-way player as he settles in and learns to mash MLB caliber pitching.
As Torkelson, among many other top prospect hitters around the game, have shown us, it often doesn’t come easily, even for the best prospect talent. For now, we’re just happy the day has finally arrived. Greene will be a lot of fun to watch develop, and hopefully by the end of this painful season, he and Torkelson will be able to establish themselves and point the way forward for an offense that has been historically bad to date.
Riley Greene with a sharp single to right center to get Baddoo to third. pic.twitter.com/1adyvc6sY6— Tigers Minor League Report (@tigersMLreport) June 11, 2022