Why Riley Greene might be the best Detroit Tigers prospect of all

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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LAKELAND, Fla. — What the Detroit Tigers put on display Saturday didn’t look much like a real baseball game. There were pitch-count limits, shortened innings, players switching positions and backups entering at random in the later stages to get a quick at-bat.

Not to mention, the intrasquad scrimmage was only 4½ innings and ended in a tie at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.

[ Tigers feature top prospects in intrasquad game in Lakeland: What we saw ]

The Tigers are grinding through a five-week instructional league schedule — featuring games and scrimmages — with development in mind. Most of the 49 players on the roster went without organized training this summer. Others, such as third baseman Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene, need more at-bats.

A short intrasquad game like Saturday doesn’t mean much in the big picture. No one at-bat is going to make or break any prospect. A bad outing on the mound won’t do so either.

But still, there were key moments to observe, signifying a fresh perspective as the Tigers continue the rebuilding process.

Riley Greene

Greene made two bold claims Wednesday. The first: His swing is the best of his entire life. Second: His confidence has skyrocketed since joining the Tigers in July for summer camp and competing in August and September at the alternate training site in Toledo. Players say this stuff all the time, so it wasn’t surprising to hear those words.

[ How Detroit Tigers’ Riley Greene found his swing — and his swagger — in Toledo ]

But so far, he has backed up his words with actions. On Saturday, the 20-year-old tripled in the third inning off right-hander Paul Richan. He drove a 2-1 pitch to the right-center gap, just beyond an outstretched Parker Meadows, and hustled to third base.

Greene tripled in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, as well. His swing looks great, and he’s battling through at-bats when necessary, such as when he drew a walk in the first inning Saturday. That suggests he is confident in his knowledge of the strike zone, a change from his first year as a professional, in 2019.

Seeing Greene for the first time since summer camp at Comerica Park, he has made a massive jump — not just a step — forward. If the power and plate discipline he showcased Saturday continues, the Tigers will want him in the lineup sooner than later. And he could become the best of the top prospects.

Spencer Torkelson

Torkelson hasn’t seen much action at third, and he wasn’t tested Saturday. Still, he struggled through the early portions of warmups before the intrasquad scrimmage.

The Tigers believe Torkelson is the third baseman of the future, but he looks uncomfortable at times. Yes, Torkelson is athletic. Yes, his baseball knowledge is impressive. Yes, the third base position holds more value than first base. But his arm strength wasn’t even comparable to 20-year-old Alvaro Gonzalez — who isn’t a top prospect.

Torkelson looks like a first baseman trying too hard to play third base. However, this is a small sample size. He might be a much better third baseman than he displayed in warmups Saturday. The Tigers aren’t ready to pull the plug on the third base experiment because there’s so much potential for success, but Torkelson needs more work. This transition won’t happen overnight for 2020’s No. 1 overall pick.

Also, he looks solid at the plate.

[ What Spencer Torkelson showed in Detroit Tigers instructional league game ]

Trei Cruz

The Tigers’ 2020 third-round pick (73rd overall), Cruz looks uncomfortable on offense. He spent three years at Rice, but his offense still needs work. His success rate at the plate projects to be shaky, but that’s part of his development process.

Still, it’s impossible to miss how reliable he is in the infield. His best quality at shortstop comes from his transfer time — much quicker than most. He isn’t sloppy and has excellent footwork and arm strength. During games, he has the presence of a defensive captain.

He is showing, at least defensively, he can play in the majors. Getting there will be determined by his bat.

Wenceel Perez

Perez is having a hard time at second base, which is disappointing because the Tigers have a slew of infield prospects vying for time in the majors. He projects as a shortstop, which is where he has gotten the bulk of his work so far in his career, but he needs to be able to move around the infield, especially with the shift being used at an all-time high

Right now, Perez isn’t giving the organization much to cheer about. He made two errors in the fifth inning Friday, and in the fourth inning Saturday, he dropped a simple infield fly.

For subscribers: Where Detroit Tigers’ top prospects stand entering instructional league: ‘As advertised’

The 20-year-old, ranked as the team’s No. 16 prospect by MLB Pipeline, isn’t out of the running for a big-league job some day, but his infield struggles are surprising, considering his reuptation as a defense-first player after he hit .233 in 2019 for Single-A West Michigan.

There’s still upside, but Perez might need to stick to shortstop. If versatility is no longer an option, he will face a much tougher climb to the majors.

Alex Lange

The Tigers netted Lange from the Chicago Cubs in the 2019 Nick Castellanos trade, and he looks ready for the next stage. He made nine relief appearances for Double-A Erie in 2019 with a 3.45 ERA. Another year in the farm system, which the coronavirus pandemic denied him and many others, could cement him as a bullpen option.

On Saturday, he pitched 1⅔ scoreless innings but recorded six outs. His strikeout of Jose De La Cruz was negated by catcher Sam McMillen’s passed ball.

[ These two Detroit Tigers relief prospects vying to become part of franchise’s future ]

Lange’s fastball sits around 94 mph and can get up to 96-97 mph. When the Tigers acquired him, they shifted him to the bullpen. He seems to have improved his slider (based on his limited action Saturday) and continues to work on his changeup. Pitching in July’s camp and with the reserve squad, where he was able to face big-league talent, appears to have helped Lange immensely.

If Lange, 25, continues to improve his secondary pitches, don’t be surprised if a solid spring training puts him in the running for a bullpen spot in 2021.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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