Hunter Greene is the top-ranked prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft class. The 17-year-old high school senior from Notre Dame High in Southern California has the chance to be the first prep right-hander taken No. 1 overall in the history of the Draft. As we approach the Draft (June 12-14
Hunter Greene is the top-ranked prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft class. The 17-year-old high school senior from Notre Dame High in Southern California has the chance to be the first prep right-hander taken No. 1 overall in the history of the Draft. As we approach the Draft (June 12-14 on MLB Network and MLB.com), we're running a four-part series on Greene.
SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. -- On the field, Hunter Greene is the model of composure. Everything he does has a purpose, from his preparation to his game plan.
The fear, then, is that Greene is too programmed or robotic. Where does the emotion go? The need to let loose?
:: Introducing Hunter Greene ::
It turns out that Greene, the top-ranked player on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Draft list, does have a place to put all of that. From his love of painting to his deep bond with his family to his desire to be a role model, there are many facets to Greene off the field.
Painting corners and canvas
While Greene's future is most certainly on the mound, there are those who feel he could succeed in a studio as well. An A student in his AP art class, the 17-year-old with the baseball world on his shoulders lets loose when he's creating.
"It's kind of just an escape, where I'm able to express myself in a different way," Greene said. "Making cool stuff and showing people I'm also an artist, it's not just baseball. I'm a good student, and I love drawing."
Greene gets it from his mother, who taught him calligraphy when he was around 11. He was the kid constantly doodling on the kids' menu at restaurants. Greene started to foster that ability when he walked into Joseph Lee's art class at Notre Dame High School as a freshman. Four years later, Lee sees a progression in Greene that kind of mirrors what he's done on the field.
"I make that analogy all the time in regard to the kids who play sports," Lee said. "It's really about practicing, putting the work in and watching that growth. The discipline he shows in baseball is the same discipline he shows in my class. Maybe the only difference: The rigor here in making art is about your self-growth, it's not competitive. That leaves him open to a different type of growth that's really great to see."
Greene's baseball world is fairly regimented, even during the offseason and between games. Before the season, he's at the gym four or five times a week. Once he gets going, he's there a couple of times to maintain, working on flexibility and explosiveness. He does yoga two to three times a week.
:: 2017 MLB Draft coverage ::
In front of a canvas, Greene is free-form and reactive. He might look up to big league pitchers or shortstops in what will soon be his field of work, but he also sees role models in the art world, like Keith Haring, the successful Los Angeles street artist RETNA and hip-hop artist Travis Scott.
"I like to make stuff pop," Greene said. "I like for people's eyes to bounce all over the canvases."
"Art is an old man's sport," Lee said. "That's what's great about it. You don't retire from doing this kind of stuff. You keep on working, you practice. That's what it's going to take if he wanted to pursue this later on, the practice of it, having the moments in which you are developing yourself, developing your eye. Right now, it's very intuitive, it's about that moment for him. That's the beauty of what he's doing, that immediacy."
Family is key
Greene stays in the moment with his family as well. A good amount of that comes from his parents, Russell and Senta, who everyone credits for making sure their son stays centered and respectful. Much of it came from a life experience one would hope a child and family never have to go through.
Libriti Greene, Hunter's younger sister, was diagnosed with cancer at age 5. Hunter was 11 and already making a name for himself on the baseball field, but none of that seemed to matter as Libriti's health became priority No. 1. Hunter still played, but he shuttled between the hospital and the field. It was a huge perspective-builder at such a young age.
"I think that helped him, how he deals with everything," Greene's best friend and catcher, Justin Rorick, said. "That was something so soon in his life and off the field that he had to tune out to be able to play baseball and maybe to use her as motivation.
"That helped him as a person grow very young. I think that's why, as a 17-year-old, he's so mature. He had to face that at such an early stage that most people don't have to worry about."
"My family has kept me grounded forever," Greene said. "Never be too high, never be too low. There's a middle, there's a balance, no matter how much success or failure I deal with."
His sister's story wasn't one he shared often, but now that it's been reported, most notably in the Sports Illustrated cover story, it's opened the door for him to share that part of his family's experience. Libriti is healthy and comes to as many games as she can get to, given her own busy schedule, and Greene is more than willing to discuss that time, especially if it might help others.
"I'm really open, but no one knew, to be honest," Greene said. "I've had a lot of people come up to me asking about my sister. Now they ask me how she's doing, how the process was and I'm able to explain it.
"There have been a couple of people who are going through the process now. I have a teammate whose younger brother is going through chemotherapy now. I've been supportive, he's come to me for guidance, how to stay strong as a brother. Just being there for him, present in the moment. I've been able to pass that down, which I love doing, helping other people in that position."
Greene as a role model
It might seem unfair to put that label on a teenager who isn't old enough to vote. But it's one that Greene seems to relish. He signs autographs tirelessly and without complaint, even claiming to enjoy the process. Greene talks to kids anywhere and everywhere he can. As his high school coach Tom Dill says, "You have this nice young man who is very respectful, and I think gets it."
Greene learned much of it coming up at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., where kids are taught, as he puts it, to be "Major League citizens." He learned to give back, seeing big leaguers come to teach him about the game, on and off the field.
"To be able to get that from them, I just want to be able to do that for other people, where I'm able to come back and give as much as I can and help a generation of talent to succeed," Greene said.
Greene has already done it. He was put front-and-center when he was 7 or 8, on a foot stool so everyone could see him speak at a big fundraiser.
"Hunter knocked it out of the park," said Darrell Miller, MLB vice president of youth and facility development. "He spoke again last year; he did almost as good of a job this time, nine years later."
Greene has an advanced understanding of who he is in a baseball landscape that has a relatively small number of African-Americans in it. He firmly believes that talking to the next generation is the best way to be an example for all.
"I just did the Ladera Little League Opening Day ceremony," Greene said. "I did a speech about being the best version of yourself. There were maybe 200-400 players … I had a message for the players, the coaches and the families. I think they got it. I kept it simple because the kids need to be able to understand it. I think the parents loved it, I think they understood they need to be supportive for their own children.
"Being able to reach out, to go to events and talk to a lot of African-American baseball players, I think it's really important to be able to do that throughout my career."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.