What to expect from Hunter Greene

April 10th, 2022

From the moment he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 17 with the question “Baseball’s LeBron or the new Babe?”, the expectations surrounding Hunter Greene have been as hyperbolic as that headline query. Now, just under five years after he became one of the best-known high school baseball players in recent history, we’ll all get to see how he measures up on the biggest stage. We can all tune in to watch his big league debut on Sunday.

One thing became readily clear when I got to spend some time with Greene and his family in the spring leading up to the 2017 Draft: He was made for this moment. The attention, the pressure that comes with being a “once in a generation” talent, none of that is going to faze him. Will that guarantee success as a frontline starter? Of course not. But any issues he encounters won’t be because of the glare of the spotlight.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the stuff. Everyone knows about the velocity. He hit 100 mph back in high school and has been doing it consistently since. He set Nationals Park abuzz when he lit up the radar gun at the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game in 2018. Last year, in his first year back pitching competitively (more on that in a bit), he was averaging around 99 mph with his fastball and routinely hit triple digits.

He’s always been able to command his fastball well, but one “knock” against him was that as hard as he threw, his fastball would sometimes flatten out and get too much of the zone. When he was in Triple-A last year, veteran hitters squared it up at times. But he also made strides locating the pitch more down in the zone, which led to swings and misses and ground-ball outs.

He’s always had a good slider and it’s gotten even better, an upper-80s breaking ball that is a true out pitch, especially now that it shows more consistent bite to it. He learned last year that he has to commit to throwing his changeup more frequently, and that will be something to watch as he attacks big league hitters for the first time. I’m curious to see how often he folds in a cutter he added last year, a pitch that might help keep hitters off the fastball. His ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes has always been a key component to his ability to succeed.

When he was in high school, Greene gave off a vibe that he knew he belonged. Some might have read it as cockiness; I saw more as a quiet confidence. He knew he was gifted, but more than that, he believed in his own ability to excel. A kid throwing 100 mph could very easily believe he has it all figured out, but Greene always has been willing to learn, to get help from others to get him to this point.

Had Greene made a beeline to Cincinnati without hitting any bumps in the road, there could be cause for concern. But that missed time referenced above showed a little bit about what Greene is made of. You never root for a young player to get hurt, but when Greene went down with his elbow injury shortly after that Futures Game performance and then needed Tommy John surgery, the big question was how this phenom would handle adversity.

It was thoroughly unsurprising to me that he came back as strong as, if not stronger than, Hunter Greene v1.0. After not pitching competitively for two years, rehabbing in 2019 and the pandemic in 2020, he quickly showed Double-A hitters were no match for him. There were some hiccups in Triple-A, but anyone who thinks Greene wasn’t taking notes and won’t make the necessary adjustments hasn’t been paying attention.

There’s a tendency to think guys who light up the radar gun like Greene does are throwers only, but even when Greene leaned in that direction a bit as a prep star, he has always been a student of the game. Sitting with him in Dayton during his first full season and breaking down his full-season debut, it was very clear that this wasn’t just a guy rearing back and throwing as hard as he could.

Greene wants to be the star everyone thought he could be back in 2017. He wants to live up to the hype of the SI cover. And he understands that he has the opportunity to do things bigger than the game. The numbers will be there once he settles in. His impact as an ambassador for the game have the chance to outstrip his production on the mound.