Tigers call up top prospect Riley Greene

June 18th, 2022

DETROIT -- The day Riley Greene arrived at Comerica Park to sign his first pro contract, he put on such a hitting display in batting practice that Miguel Cabrera half-jokingly begged general manager Al Avila to leave him here. Three years later, the Tigers’ top prospect is arriving to take swings that count.

Manager A.J. Hinch announced the Tigers have selected the contract of Greene, MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 ranked prospect. The 21-year-old outfielder will make his Major League debut Saturday afternoon, batting sixth and playing center field, against the Rangers at Comerica Park. The Tigers placed fellow outfielder Austin Meadows on the COVID-19 injured list Friday after he tested positive, thus opening a roster spot.

“It was kind of a matter of days until he was going to be called up,” Hinch said, “so it lines up. Unfortunately, we lose Austin in the process. But what a journey for Riley to get the call.”

When Greene takes his place in Comerica Park’s vast outfield, he’ll be the latest Tigers prospect to make his debut this season, joining good friend Spencer Torkelson, Kody Clemens, Beau Brieske, Alex Faedo, Joey Wentz, Elvin Rodriguez and Angel De Jesus.

And yet, between his Spring Training and Minor League feats, the 21-year-old Greene -- the fifth overall pick from the 2019 Draft -- will be the most anticipated debut of the bunch.

Since MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect, Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, has been in Baltimore since May 21, Greene has been the highest-ranked prospect not in the Major Leagues. If not for a freak injury, Greene would’ve been in Detroit’s outfield on Opening Day. In the final days of an impressive Spring Training, he fouled off a pitch from Gerrit Cole and fractured a bone in his foot, though it didn’t become apparent until after he hit a triple on Cole’s next pitch.

Instead of enjoying Opening Day at Comerica Park, Greene had to stay back in Lakeland, his foot in a boot. The fact that the injury came on April’s Fool Day seemed cruelly ironic.

Greene vowed to turn the injury into a positive, to find something good out of it. He spent the extra time shaping his outlook, doing whatever work his body would allow. Once he finally got into games at the end of May, he got back to hitting.

From the moment Greene returned to the field -- first on a rehab assignment at Single-A Lakeland, then the past two weeks with Triple-A Toledo -- the anticipation for his callup to Detroit was on. Greene handled it like a proving ground rather than a pit stop.

“Listen,” Mud Hens manager Lloyd McClendon said last week, “I’d be lying if I said he didn’t know what’s at stake. We all know what’s at stake. But he’s very professional. He handles it very well. He gets after it pretty good. I think his makeup, his talent and the overall package will see him through this.

“Like I told him, adversity can really define you, not so much by what happened to you but how you handle it. And I think he’s handled it pretty good.”

Greene batted .274 (17-for-62) at Toledo with six RBIs, six walks and 14 strikeouts. His home run was a hard-hit blast off the right-field scoreboard at Columbus. All four of his doubles were opposite-field drives to left, three off the left-field wall, one off a breaking pitch.

“I'm feeling good, foot feels good,” Greene said last week at Fifth Third Field. “Literally no problems with the foot at all. I feel like a normal baseball player again.”

At no point did he talk publicly about wanting to push his timetable to Detroit. He let his hitting and his defense -- including one running catch in deep center field and another sliding catch in shallow center -- do the talking.

“I think the wish and the hope for guys is that they’re dominating and they’re tearing up a league that makes it obvious when a time should come when he gets called up,” Hinch said Friday. “I think he’s competing fine. He’s swinging the bat very well. He’s commanding the zone. He’s running the bases.

“There’s things that he’s doing as a player that he still has to learn and grow, but there’s also freedom in what he’s doing. We were being patient with him in giving him 50, 60, 70, 80 at-bats until we were going to make the call. We considered about this weekend. We thought about this road trip. The conversations were ongoing. The roster need was unique.”

As it is, Greene will get two games in home in front of a Tigers fan base that has been anticipating his arrival ever since that round of batting practice three years ago. Detroit then goes on the road for a three-city, eight-game road trip to Boston, Arizona and San Francisco.