Detroit Tigers’ Riley Greene grew up watching Tampa Bay Rays. Why he won’t in World Series

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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LAKELAND, Fla. — Riley Greene is a tad superstitious.

The Detroit Tigers‘ prospect grew up watching the Tampa Bay Rays. He hails from Oviedo, Florida, an Orlando suburb. The 120-mile hike to see a game in St. Petersburg wasn’t too far to keep him away from the ballpark.

The Rays are in the World Series for the first time since 2008, after finishing off the Astros in Game 7 on Saturday, and they’re one of six teams without a championship, along with the Rockies, Mariners, Brewers, Padres and Rangers.

The Rays — 22 years after being established in MLB expansion — will either play the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, who will face off Sunday in Game 7 of the NCLS.

“I want the Rays to win,” Greene said last week. “The past couple times I’ve watched the Rays, they’ve lost. So, I don’t watch them anymore. I just look at the score. 

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

Greene is in Lakeland, Florida, about an hour east of St. Petersburg, for the Tigers’ instructional league camp through Nov. 8. And if it weren’t a COVID-19 year, he might drive over to Tropicana Field to catch a World Series game. This year, the games are being held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

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“My good friend always calls me and says, ‘You’re not watching the game, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not watching,’ ” Greene said.  “He says, ‘Good.’ I might watch it. I might not. We’ll see.”

Preparing for ‘those games’

Greene still tracks the Rays by checking the box score. And he follows some games live on Twitter, digesting the latest clips featuring ALCS MVP Randy Arozarena.

Arozarena is 25 years old.

“Seeing the highlights on Twitter and stuff,” said Greene, who turned 20 in September, “it’s pretty cool for those guys to make those catches in such big of games.”

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

Last year, Arozarena made his MLB debut with the St. Louis Cardinals. He participated in 19 games, and had four at-bats in the playoffs. He was traded to the Rays in the offseason and played 23 games in the shortened 2020 schedule.

In this postseason, Arozarena is 21-for-55 (.382) with seven homers and 10 RBIs. He lacks experience but is delivering on the biggest stage. He hit .321 with four home runs and six RBIs in the ALCS.

Arozarena, a corner outfielder, has carried the Rays.

Greene is taking notes.

“That makes me want to work harder,” Greene said, “so I can be there in those games, making those catches.”

Selected No. 5 overall in the 2019 draft from high school, Greene is proving in instructional league games that he is well on his way. The Tigers aren’t expected to be postseason contenders until at least 2022, which is when Greene should be in the majors on a full-time basis.

“I’m just going to show up and play my best,” he said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to work on my swing, my outfield skills. I’m going to take it day-by-day and work hard at it.”

Greene hit .271 in 57 games in the minors in his first year as a pro. He reached Single-A West Michigan but had a .219 batting average through 24 games at that level.

This year, with the minors canceled, Greene impressed during summer camp and then went to the alternate training site in Toledo, where he worked out and played intrasquad games with Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Among them were other top prospects and veteran players.

“I mean, being up there, it was a whole new ballgame,” Greene said. “The pitching is better. The game was just faster overall. You got to know things that you weren’t really thinking about in Low-A. There’s a lot of things that I felt like were a little different when I was up there with those guys.”

For subscribers: What Spencer Torkelson showed in Detroit Tigers instructional league game

Prospects were an injury or illness away from being called up to the majors. Four prospects — pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, third baseman Isaac Paredes and outfielder Daz Cameron — made their MLB debuts.

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

It would be an upset if Greene didn’t make his MLB debut in 2021. His strength, speed, instincts and swagger stand out. And the Tigers will need him well-prepared if they want to make a run at the postseason like the Arozarena-led Rays.

“Certainly, we’re very high on him,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said. “He’s advanced. It won’t surprise me if he moves fast with the way he’s swinging the bat and the overall package, as well.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content

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