Detroit Tigers prospect Riley Greene ready to make his case: ‘I love playing center field’

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers prospect Riley Greene is aware there’s an opening in center field on the Opening Day roster.

The 21-year-old, the fifth overall pick in 2019, has put in his application.

He wants the job.

“I love playing center field,” Greene said Monday, after the first full-squad workouts of minor-league minicamp. “Center fielder is the best, I think, out of all the positions because you got gaps to cover. It’s fun. You can run around, and there’s a lot of space. It’s definitely my favorite position.”

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Greene solidified his résumé with a strong 2021 season in the minor leagues, hitting .301 with 25 doubles, eight triples, 24 home runs, 84 RBIs, 63 walks and 153 strikeouts in 124 games. He played 84 games for Double-A Erie and 40 games for Triple-A Toledo.

It was his first full season as a pro.

And a learning experience.

“It’s a long season,” Greene said. “Just trying to do things before the game and after the game to keep you healthy. And always staying confident. The mental side of the game is a huge part. Being able to stay mentally strong is big.”

He hit .308 with eight homers and a .400 on-base percentage for the Mud Hens. He logged 14 starts in right field, 13 starts in left and 12 starts in center.

“That was last year,” Greene said. “This is this year now.”

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Preparing for this season, Greene made trips to Hagerty High in Oviedo, Florida, the place where he built himself into a top-five draft pick. He took swings off his friends — a group of professional pitchers — to get a feel for live pitching ahead of camp.

He also enlisted himself in a Hagerty High varsity baseball scrimmage. He didn’t run the bases, nor did he play the outfield, but he stepped into the batter’s box for live at-bats. Upon doing so, he felt a rush of adrenaline.

“I was like, ‘I can’t strike out because I will not hear the end of it,'” Greene said.

Putting on weight was a personal goal for Greene, too. He checks in on the minicamp roster at 6 feet 3, 195 pounds. His diet consisted of Chick-fil-A and Chipotle, two fast-food chains he always passed on the way home from his workouts.

These food choices were part of a long-term plan.

“I tried to put on some pounds,” Greene said. “Going back to last season, I lost a few pounds. So I’m just trying to get a little bigger, and I know I’m going to lose weight, so I’m trying to bulk up a little bit and eat as much as I can when we’re in the season.”

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As for the Opening Day roster, Greene has done enough to be considered a frontrunner to break camp with the big-league team. He still has a lot to prove, including his defensive instincts in center field.

Regardless, Greene’s offense is an upgrade for the Tigers.

That’s why when it comes to his position, Greene isn’t overthinking the roster construction. Whenever MLB’s lockout ends, thus allowing players on the 40-man roster to arrive for spring training, five players will compete for what could be four outfield spots: Greene, Akil Baddoo, Robbie Grossman, Derek Hill and Victor Reyes.

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Baddoo and Grossman are already locked in, leaving Greene, Hill and Reyes clashing for what appears to be a pair of openings.

There’s a good chance Greene makes the roster.

“I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can, and everything else will take care of itself,” Greene said. “I didn’t really change anything last year. I played hard and did what I had to do. I didn’t make the team — whatever. I’m just going to control what I can control. The rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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