Riley Greene has been captivating Tigers fans with his big league potential for more than a year between two Spring Trainings and last year's Summer Camp. But he has been waiting to get back to Minor League ball for a while.
His first regular-season game in 20 months is going to put him just a couple developmental steps from Detroit.
"I'm very eager, I'm ready to get the season started," the Tigers' No. 2 prospect said Saturday from Erie, Pa., where he'll open his first full Minor League season jumping into Double-A ball. "I've been wanting to do this for a long time now, just playing games that actually matter, under the lights, with fans. It's going to be awesome and I'm excited to get going."
The last time Greene played in a Minor League game, he was a teenager just a few months out of high school, finishing up a month-long stint at Class A West Michigan. That was the summer of 2019, just after he became the fifth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.
Greene was clearly talented, even as one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, back then the lowest level of full-season ball. But he became a borderline superstar in the next Spring Training, only to have the COVID-19 pandemic halt his momentum and cancel his Minor League season.
West Michigan and the Midwest League have since moved up to High-A, but Greene won't be returning. His work against the Tigers' top pitching prospects at the alternate training site last summer, followed by an impressive stint in instructional league in Lakeland, Fla., helped set him up to jump another level, something general manager Al Avila has been thinking about since last offseason.
"It definitely prepared me a lot," said Greene, who ranks 18th on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospect list. "When I was at the [alternate training] site, we were facing a lot of good arms. I mean, the top arms we have were throwing there. I felt like I got a lot out of those arms that I was facing.
"Being at the [alternate training] site, it definitely helped my game and my mental approach as a player. I learned a lot there. My swing definitely got better. I feel like that had a lot to do with me being able to be here."
Many of those pitchers -- including Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning -- spent the summer of 2019 in Erie, fronting a prospect-laden rotation that included Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz and nearly propelled the SeaWolves to the playoffs.
While Mize and Skubal are in the big leagues, Manning is set to start Opening Day for Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday. The only pitcher in the group still on Erie's roster is Faedo, who's on the injured list for the year while he rehabs from Tommy John surgery.
For now, Greene is the unquestioned star of the Erie roster. As fans return to newly renovated UPMC Park, they'll be watching Greene as much for his power-speed attack on offense as for his penchant for highlight plays in the field.
Greene will have a tough standard to meet in that regard. Derek Hill, now set to open at Toledo, produced highlight catches almost daily in a spacious center field. Greene didn't ask Hill about playing there during their Spring Training together, but he has seen the highlights.
"Hopefully I can keep up with him," Greene said.
Erie manager Arnie Beyeler said Greene will probably see playing time at all three positions.
"We're just trying to get him a lot of at-bats and let him develop," Beyeler said Saturday. "He's going to be fun to watch."
Mazara to begin rehab assignment
Outfielder Nomar Mazara, currently on the 10-day injured list with a left abdominal strain, will start a rehab assignment in Toledo when the Mud Hens' season begins Tuesday, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch confirmed. He'll likely play three games there in four days before the team re-evaluates him for a potential return to Detroit this coming weekend.
Candelario, Boyd named Tigers Player, Pitcher of the Month
Third baseman Jeimer Candelario and left-hander Matthew Boyd have been voted by the Detroit media as the Tigers Player and Pitcher of the Month, respectively, for April. Candelario batted .260 with five doubles, a home run and seven RBIs. Boyd posted a 2-3 record in six starts with a 2.27 ERA and 24 strikeouts over 35 2/3 innings.