Riley Greene Is Proving His Point -- And That Of The Tigers

"I was a better defender than what people gave me credit for."

Will Burchfield
July 13, 2020 - 5:51 pm

Riley Greene wasn't supposed to be making these plays, not according to the pundits. He wasn't supposed to be running down balls in the gaps and snatching them from over the fence. He wasn't supposed to be this athletic. He was supposed to be a great hitter with a below-average glove. 

But his glove keeps showing up in highlights. 

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It showed up last season in Class-A West Michigan, where manager Lance Parrish was so impressed he said Greene was already capable of playing center field in Detroit. It showed up this year in spring training. And it continues to show up in Summer Camp, most recently in Monday's scrimmage when the 19-year-old made the catch of his life -- and wowed Mike Trout in the process. 

So maybe the pundits were wrong. And maybe the Tigers were right. They insisted Greene had the tools to be a center fielder after drafting him fifth overall, and he's beginning to back them up.

"When I got drafted, a bunch of people were saying that I wasn’t fast, that I wasn’t that good of an outfielder," Greene said Monday. "I kind of took it in, got with my (trainer) and worked on speed, worked on some 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. I just gotta keep working hard at it."

On Monday, as he scaled the left field wall to take a home run away from C.J. Cron, Greene showed his springs. Perhaps those pundits didn't know he was a standout basketball player in high school; he could dunk as a freshman. He's also flashed his speed on a couple running catches in the outfield gaps, including one in Comerica's deadly alcove in right center. 

While some observers are surprised, Greene felt he was capable of this all along. 

"I definitely think I was a better defender than what people gave me credit for," he said. "I was always quick. I wasn’t too fast, but I was a good athlete and I could play there, and I don’t think anyone really saw that." 

Parrish got to see it on an everyday basis in the second half of last season, and that was before Greene dedicated himself to an offseason of speed training. And here's how he described it at the time. 

"He’s made some incredible plays. I don’t think I’ve seen a guy that can go get ‘em like he can for quite some time. He makes diving, layout catches like you’d see a wide receiver make in the end zone. It’s nice when you see him do it one time," said Parrish. "But when he does it three or four times, it’s like, okay, this guy’s got something real special."

The potential reward for the Tigers here is huge. Assuming Greene's bat translates like we expect, they just might have a premium player at a premium position. Their last center fielder who could hit was Austin Jackson. Their last center fielder who could hit for power was Curtis Granderson. You'll remember both those players helped Detroit reach the World Series. 

Greene won't be doing that anytime soon. Ron Gardenhire has no designs of keeping him on the roster this season, no matter how well he plays in Summer Camp. "It's not that hard of a decision," he said. And Greene has no illusions about his current experience with the big-league club. He's not here to make the team. 

"When I got invited here, I told myself I was going to try my hardest, go out there and have fun. It’s a game of baseball," said Greene. "I wasn’t coming here thinking, 'Oh yeah, I’m here for a reason.' I just said I’m going to come and have fun and work as hard as I can." 

In all reality, Greene likely won't be in the majors before 2022. He's the furthest away of the club's top prospects. But he's proving he might be the centerpiece whenever he arrives, a middle-of-the-order hitter patrolling the middle of the field. 

"That’s why they got drafted early and that’s why they’re here, they’re very talented people," Gardenhire said. "We’ll just keep letting them have fun, and we get to dream a little bit when we watch them play."