Fueled By Critics, Riley Greene 'Confident' He Can Play Center Field At Comerica Park

And the Tigers are committed to letting him try.

Will Burchfield
August 20, 2019 - 12:49 pm
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When the Tigers drafted Riley Greene fifth overall, everyone raved about his bat. Rightfully so. 

And then they questioned his glove. 

The pundits say Greene, 18, isn't cut out to play center field. They say he's better suited for one of the corner spots, due to a lack of plus speed and a below-average arm. 

Greene is intent on proving them wrong, and the Tigers are ready to let him try. He's spent the vast majority of his young minor league career in center, first in rookie ball, then in Class-A short season and now with Class-A West Michigan. 

Can he eventually patrol the sprawling outfield at Comerica Park? 

"I’m pretty confident I can do that," Greene told 97.1 The Ticket's podcast The Time That. "A lot of people told me that I couldn’t play it just because I wasn’t fast enough or wasn’t that good of an outfielder. Once I heard that I started working at it, started working real hard, and I’m going to keep working at it until one day hopefully I can make it there." 

Greene got a look at Comerica as part of his introductory press conference in June. He's aware of the challenge that awaits. The Tigers have a number of long-term options in center if incumbent JaCoby Jones doesn't stick, from Derek Hill to Daz Cameron to Parker Meadows, and Greene is certainly in the mix. 

"He's going to play center field for us," Detroit's director of amateur scouting Scott Pleis said after the draft. "That's the way we see it. "I think Riley alluded to it earlier. That's what he wants to do and he's constantly working to make that happen." 

He still has a long way to go, no doubt. His defensive tools lag behind those of the more experienced center fielders in the system. But Greene has the necessary athleticism -- this is a kid who could dunk a basketball as a high school freshman -- and there's time for the rest of his skills to catch up. 

If they do, the Tigers might wind up with one of the most valuable commodities in baseball: a center fielder with a middle-of-the-order bat. Which begs the question. How quickly can Greene get here? 

"This is what I tell everyone: I just take it day by day. I’m not the person making the moves, I can’t control that. All I can control is going out there and playing as hard as I can every day. If they make the move, they make the move. If they don’t, they don’t," he said. "Just going to keep going out there and playing as hard as I can." 

For the Tigers and their fans, the sooner the better. The club is on track to finish last in the majors for the second time in three years. The immediate future isn't much brighter. Though Greene doesn't obsess over the big-league club at this point in his career, he knows things have been rough.

And he's ready to help however he can. 

"I’m aware of what they’re doing," he said. "I don’t really watch them that much, but I always see scores and highlights and stuff. Whatever team I’m going to be put on -- if it’s the High-A team, Double-A team, Triple-A team -- I’m always going to try to help them get wins. That’s my main goal. Help the team out as much as I can and in anyway I can." 

After lighting up the first two levels of the minors and then homering in his debut with West Michigan, Greene has cooled off a bit at the plate. He's hitting .229 with a .609 OPS through 11 games with the Whitecaps. 

If his hot start didn't surprise him, nor have his recent struggles. 

"I’ve been used to the pitching," he said. "My summer going into my senior year I was facing the best of the best -- kids throwing 95 to 98 (mph), even some kids throwing 100. The only difference is they can hit spots better. That’s tough. You see it -- my debut I did good and now I’m struggling a little bit. That’s baseball. You just have to keep working hard every day." 

Other highlights from Greene's interview:

His first purchase after receiving his $6.2 million signing bonus: "I actually bought a truck already. Went with the Ford F-250."

Have teammates tried making him pay for dinner: "No, not really. When I was in Lakeland they made jokes, like, 'Riley, c’mon, can you pay for it?' I was like, 'Nahh, I’m good.'" 

Did he like hitting with with metal bats in high school: "No, I didn’t, to be honest, just because it’s a different feel. It’s very light, and my hands are pretty quick so I had to kind of adjust to it and let the ball get deeper. With wood, the bat’s a little heavier, so it kind of evens out how quick my hands are." 

What's the longest home run he's hit: "Maybe like 450 feet (with wood). With aluminum, I was in the High School Home Run Derby at the Washington Nationals stadium (in 2018) and we were all hitting balls, like, 480, 490 with those bats."

Other sports he played growing up: "I played basketball. I didn’t play in high school because my coach wouldn’t let me, but to be honest, I probably could have gone D-1 for basketball. ... I could dunk as a freshman." 

His favorite player growing up: David Ortiz.

His favorite team: Red Sox. 

One stat he likes, one stat he doesn't: "In my personal opinion -- my personal opinion -- a stat that I don’t like, launch angle, I guess you could say. I’m not really that big of a launch angle guy.

"The stat that I do like, it doesn’t really show up anywhere, but it’s QAB’s: quality AB’s. Our hitting coach does it on a piece of paper. Quality AB’s I feel like show a lot, just because if you have multiple seven-, eight-, nine-pitch at-bats, that’s a pretty good at-bat. Even if you don’t get a hit, you’re still seeing the ball well. You’re fouling pitches off, you’re having a good AB. I feel like that would be one of the more important ones because it shows that you battle up there, it shows that you don’t want to get out."