Greene’s cool keeping him hot at Triple-A

Detroit Tigers

TOLEDO, Ohio — Riley Greene has been putting up strong exit velocities ever since Spring Training with the Tigers. But he showed a hint of arm velo Wednesday night for Triple-A Toledo as he tossed his batting gloves into his helmet and handed it to a bat boy at the end of the fifth inning.

Greene had sent a ball to the warning track in right-center with a chance at a go-ahead three-run homer. But he was also frustrated that he’d been a tick late on an offspeed pitch and fouled it off a few pitches before that.

He would’ve had every reason to swing for the fences when he stepped to the plate again in the seventh inning, this time with the bases loaded with Mud Hens. The St. Paul Saints and manager Toby Gardenhire seemed to be counting on him swinging big when they set up a lefty-lefty matchup by bringing in Jovani Moran, who has averaged 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings for his Minor League career.

If Greene had taken his previous at-bat into his next one, he didn’t show it. He fouled off another offspeed pitch but took two others out of the zone, working into a 3-1 count. When Moran challenged him with a fastball, Greene went to the opposite field with it, sending a ground ball through the left side for a go-ahead two-run single.

The at-bat backed up something Greene said a few hours earlier when asked about the difference between Triple-A and Double-A pitching.

“In Double-A, they had good stuff. They could throw it for the most part wherever they want,” Greene said. “But here, they’re throwing where they want it, they’re setting you up. They’re not afraid to throw a waste pitch because they know they’re going to throw a strike their next pitch.

“It’s a small difference, but I can definitely tell a difference.”

His reaction to it has also been small.

“I mean, the approach has been the same,” Greene said, “working the other way, staying in the big parts of the field. It hasn’t really changed.”

Wednesday’s hit built a lead that his good friend and roommate Spencer Torkelson extended an inning later with his first Triple-A homer. It also summed up Greene’s adjustment.

Greene, the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect and No. 7 overall per MLB Pipeline, is a month away from his 21st birthday. According to Baseball Reference, he has yet to face a pitcher this season who is younger than he is. He was one of the youngest players in Double-A, but he looked like a veteran by the time he earned his promotion to Toledo with a .298 average, .905 OPS and 16 homers in 84 games.

Now one of the youngest players in Triple-A East, Greene entered Thursday with eight RBIs in as many games for the Mud Hens, batting .300 (9-for-30) with one triple, one homer, three walks and 13 strikeouts. His three-hit, five-RBI game against Indianapolis last Sunday included an RBI single off 30-year-old Shelby Miller, who made his Major League debut when Greene was 11.

“We saw these guys at the [alternate training] site last year,” Mud Hens manager Tom Prince said. “They faced a bunch of our pitchers that are in the big leagues right now, even left-handers. They’re going to have good at-bats. They’re not going to get hits all the time. They’re going to have some frustrating things. But the one thing these kids got is a mentality.”

Greene has always been selectively aggressive. He isn’t afraid to attack the first pitch in an at-bat, but he also looks comfortable waiting for his pitch.

The Tigers are letting that maturation process play out organically. There’s more information and better video and scouting reports available at Triple-A, which can work for and against a hitter.

“[Hitting coach Jeff Branson and development coach CJ Wamsley] do a great job with them,” Prince said. “They give them what the guys got, and they let them go play. That’s all you can do. You don’t force-feed them or anything like that. Let them make their own decisions. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

Still, it probably took longer for Greene to settle in at Toledo off the field than in the batter’s box. He and Torkelson are sharing an apartment for the stretch run, reprising their living situation from Spring Training. With limited September callups — Major League rosters can expand only from 26 to 28 players — and the Tigers’ tight 40-man roster, this is their last move before heading home.

The Triple-A season this year runs as long as the Majors’. When it ends on the first weekend of October, Greene will go home having gained a wealth of experience from his first full pro season. He’ll also go home with a wealth of stuff, he admits, more than he brought north with him when Spring Training ended.

“When we’re on the road, we’ll go out to malls and stuff,” he said. “If I see a nice store, I’ll go in there and maybe buy something.”

Fortunately, his truck that carried his stuff and Torkelson’s gear from Erie to Toledo a couple of weeks ago will only have to haul his belongings south. He’ll bring a world of experience with him, too.

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