Riley Greene spent the summer taking swings against the Tigers’ top pitching prospects, both at Summer Camp at Comerica Park and at the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio. This week, for the first time since Spring Training in March, he had a chance to hit against somebody in a
Riley Greene spent the summer taking swings against the Tigers’ top pitching prospects, both at Summer Camp at Comerica Park and at the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio. This week, for the first time since Spring Training in March, he had a chance to hit against somebody in a different uniform.
“Oh my gosh, it felt amazing,” Greene said. “I mean, I can finally hit a ball hard without feeling bad for the pitcher.”
It was the Florida instructional league, and a Wednesday afternoon game against the Blue Jays' prospects in hot, humid Lakeland. But it was an actual baseball game, and actual competition -- exactly what Greene’s first full year in professional baseball has been missing.
The Tigers tried their best to get as close to that atmosphere as they could once the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the Minor League season. Greene, Detroit's No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, played alongside veteran Major Leaguers in Detroit, then joined more advanced prospects in Toledo despite having not played a game above the Class A Midwest League. He more than held his own, and provided a highlight catch in a Summer Camp game.
But that catch took away a home run from Tigers first baseman C.J. Cron, in a game that didn’t count in any standings and only loosely had a box score. Likewise, games in Toledo featured coaches filling in at positions and limited innings because they didn’t have the roster depth to play full squads.
“Whatever pitchers needed to throw that day, they would throw to us,” Greene said. “We’d sometimes play a one-inning squad game, we’d play a two-inning squad game, and then we’d play seven- or eight-inning squad games. So you never knew how many innings you were going to play.”
Instructional league games don’t necessarily count, but they feel more like games -- enough to get the competitive juices flowing. And they’ll give Tigers officials more of an idea how far and how quickly Greene could advance next year when -- hopefully -- the Minor League season returns.
“We’re very high on him and he’s advanced,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said earlier in the week. “It won’t surprise me if he moves fast the way he’s swinging the bat, and just the overall package as well.”
Despite the manufactured competition, Greene said Toledo was “probably one of the best things for me. I learned a lot about myself as a player, and I just learned a lot of things from the coaches there. I learned a lot about myself and my swing. I feel very comfortable with my swing now. I learned a lot in the outfield; I did a lot of work up there. So I feel pretty good about myself after those past couple months.”
The hitting part is noteworthy. Greene showed advanced plate discipline for a teenager in Spring Training, drawing six walks while going 5-for-12 with two home runs, then carried that into Summer Camp. But with a chance to work with hitting coaches like Mike Hessman and Jeff Branson on a daily basis in Toledo, then take adjustments into at-bats against older pitchers, he had a good hitting lab, different than what he might have encountered in a standard Minor League season with roving instructors.
“I wouldn’t really say I changed [my swing],” Greene said. “My approach changed and my mindset to things changed. With these pitchers, they’re a lot better than the guys that are in Low A, obviously. I’m just trying to work in the [outfield] gaps, just trying to stay up the middle of the field as much as I can, and working with my hands to try to stay inside the ball.”
Besides honing his hitting approach, he also honed friendships. Not only did Greene and Spencer Torkelson become fellow first-round picks and Toledo teammates this summer, they’re now carpoolers in Lakeland. Much like Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo formed bonds through common experiences the last couple years together in Erie, Pa., and Lakeland, Greene and Torkelson seem to be doing the same.
“Tork as a person is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life,” Greene said of the 2020 Draft top pick. “We literally drive together every single day. He’s a great guy, works really hard, wants the best for everyone. That’s just the person he is. It’s pretty impressive.”
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.