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Tigers phenom turns in latest great camp catch

@beckjason
July 13, 2020

DETROIT -- The Tigers brought their top prospects to Summer Camp to gain valuable experience and advice from established Major Leaguers. Their outfield prospects are now taking turns stealing hits from them. And after Riley Greene’s effort to reach over the fence and take a home run away from C.J.

DETROIT -- The Tigers brought their top prospects to Summer Camp to gain valuable experience and advice from established Major Leaguers. Their outfield prospects are now taking turns stealing hits from them.

And after Riley Greene’s effort to reach over the fence and take a home run away from C.J. Cron in Monday morning’s intrasquad game, the debate in the Tigers' office isn’t about roster decisions, but whether Greene or fellow first-round pick Derek Hill had the better catch.

“That's what we're talking about now on the bench,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I asked Hillsy what he thought, and he said, 'I think he got me on that one.' So I'll go with what Hillsy said. That was pretty impressive.”

Greene, who is ranked the organization's No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, wouldn’t go that far.

“No, I can't say that,” the 19-year-old said after the game. “Derek Hill's a great outfielder.”

Still, no less than three-time American League MVP Award winner Mike Trout was impressed.

Cron thought he had golfed Gregory Soto’s breaking ball at his ankles out to left, but Greene had a read on it from the start, sprinting towards the left-field corner.

“When Soto threw that pitch, I thought there was no chance that he was going to hit that ball,” Greene said. “Somehow, he got to it and hit it really high and I was like, 'Oh yeah, it's got a chance to go.' But it was hit high, so I was able to get to the fence. And then I just jumped, reached over and just hoped it was there.”

Not only did Greene time his leap perfectly, he got his entire right arm above the fence to corral the ball and bring it back.

“Literally, his arm was on the other side of the wall,” infielder Jordy Mercer said. “It disappeared for a second and then brought it back.”

The dugouts went quiet, bringing an otherwise empty Comerica Park to silence, until Greene got back up and showed the ball to umpires Bill Welke and John Libka. Cron raised his arms as he stopped between first and second base.

The insane play was the second highlight grab of the morning and third so far in camp. Hill, whose juggling over-the-shoulder catch went national last week, had another outstanding grab Monday. He stretched out, extended his glove and dove to take away a hit in shallow center.

Greene was not going to put his catch above Hill’s grab from last week, and Mercer played the middle ground: “I’m not going to choose. I’m going to choose all of the above.”

Greene continues to show his glovework is better than his Draft grades. When the Tigers drafted him fifth overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, they raised some eyebrows by saying they would try him in center field rather than exclusively in the corners. Greene took that opportunity and ran with it, all the way to Class A West Michigan by the end of last season.

“When I got drafted, a bunch of people were saying that I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t that good of an outfielder,” Greene said. “I kind of took it in, got with my guy. We worked on speed, worked on outfield stuff. I took pride in the hard work that I did in the offseason to be a better outfielder. It’s all paying off now, but it’s just the beginning, and I have to keep working hard at it.”

Greene enjoying Summer Camp experience

The Tigers didn’t invite Greene to their big league camp in Spring Training, but they repeatedly brought him over from Minor League camp to serve as an extra player in Grapefruit League games, notably when chairman/CEO Chris Ilitch was in town. Greene's success there in limited at-bats helped push the Tigers to add him to their player pool for Summer Camp.

The catch won’t get Greene on the Opening Day roster, but it makes an impression.

“I know what we brought in here, all of our young prospects,” Gardenhire said. “And yes, we want to see them doing what they're doing. They're having a lot of fun. But we also know they need to develop. I like watching them just like you guys like watching them. They are the future of this organization, and there's a number of them that aren't ready for this thing. But it's fun to see them go out there and compete with the rest of these guys and make plays like that. That's why they got drafted early, and that's why they're here: Because they're very talented people. And we'll just keep letting them have fun, and we get to dream a little bit when we watch them play.”

Greene, whom Detroit drafted in 2019, was the first position player taken with the Tigers’ top pick since Detroit drafted Hill in the first round in '14. Like Greene, Hill was a top pick out of high school, and he is taking advantage of his first big league camp this year.

“Me and Derek, we’ll talk in the outfield when we’re on the same team,” Greene said. “He’ll move me around in the outfield, and I’m learning from that because of the swings he’s seeing and I’m seeing. I’m learning from what he thinks.”

While the Tigers are trying to get their Major League roster ready for Opening Day next week, their Summer Camp has become a prospect showcase. Greene made a strong impression in Spring Training as an extra player called over from Minor League camp. He also had a two-run single Monday off Tigers pitching prospect Franklin Perez.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.