Detroit Tigers top prospect Riley Greene to be called up for his MLB debut

Detroit Free Press

More than two months ago, Detroit Tigers top prospect Riley Greene fractured his right foot on a foul ball in spring training. Because of the injury, he didn’t make the Opening Day roster.

Now, Greene is healthy.

It’s time.

The Tigers announced they’re calling him up Saturday for his MLB debut against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. He will be the team’s full-time center fielder.

“We would love for him to come up and be an immediate spark,” manager A.J. Hinch said Friday. “I do think it’s going to bring energy to the clubhouse. Everybody’s been anticipating his arrival, and I’ve never seen a club be more impacted by a young player’s injury than when Riley got hurt. It was a gut punch to the entire team. That speaks to how much credibility Riley gained in our clubhouse by how much energy he has, how much he works and the vibe around him.”

Greene, drafted No. 5 overall in 2019, is the No. 2 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

The 21-year-old joins fellow top prospect Spencer Torkelson, who secured his spot on the Opening Day roster the same day the Tigers learned Greene had fractured his foot and would be sidelined for months.

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Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, is hitting .181 with four home runs, 23 walks and 55 strikeouts in 57 games. Despite his struggles on offense, he has displayed above-average defense at first base. 

Torkelson’s results are an example of MLB’s challenges for young players across the league.

“Everybody has a lot of challenges when they get called up, and we’re seeing it firsthand by some really exceptional players,” Hinch said. “I wish, for all of us, we could fast forward to two, three, four years from now and look back at these guys and laugh about how much they’ve struggled. … The ability of these young kids to adjust at this level is going to be seen over time.”

The Tigers need help offensively, averaging an MLB-worst 2.68 runs per game, but Greene isn’t expected to solve all the problems by himself. Several veteran players, especially shortstop Javier Báez, must boost their production.

Still, Greene has hit for his entire pro career.

He had a career .291 batting average in the minor leagues. He clobbered 25 doubles, eight triples and 24 home runs, while hitting .301, in 124 games last season for Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.

Miguel Cabrera, on his way to the Hall of Fame, called Greene the Tigers’ best hitter in spring training. Greene earned the praise by hitting .429 with three doubles, two triples, two home runs, three walks and six strikeouts in 11 games.

He was a lock to make the Opening Day roster until his injury.

“I think he’s going to handle all of this just fine,” Hinch said. “The weight of the world is not on his shoulders. The success of our offense does not rely on him solely. We have a lot of guys that need to pick up the slack. Riley can help us immediately, but if we expect him to be the sole reason for an offensive turnaround, that’s completely unfair to Riley.”

Expectations should be tempered for all prospects, Greene included, but this left-handed hitter has all the tools to emerge immediately. One weakness is his strikeout rate, 27.6% in Triple-A last season. He is a difference maker in numerous ways though: at the plate, in the outfield and on the bases.

In 2020, Greene hit .417 with two homers in seven spring training games. The next spring, he hit .231 in 22 games. He hit .271 in the minors in 2019, then .301 in 2021.

He seems likely to have similar success in the majors, either sooner or later.

“The one thing I’m not going to do is have him come up here and sit,” Hinch said. “He’s going to play, and he’ll be in there. I’m not sure if I’m going to hit him sixth or seventh (in the batting order), but I’ll have him right around that spot.”

That’s why Greene was on track to make the Opening Day roster. He suffered the broken foot April 1, nearing the end of his third spring training, against the New York Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland.

He took time away from baseball activities to allow his foot to heal. Eventually, he began his rehabilitation program. He returned to games May 29 with Low-A Lakeland and moved up to Triple-A Toledo on May 30.

Greene crushed a three-run home run in his third game for the Mud Hens. He hit .274 with six walks and 14 strikeouts in 15 games, serving as the starting center fielder in 14 games.

“He’s competing fine,” Hinch said. “He’s swinging the bat very well. He’s commanding the (strike) zone. He’s running the bases. There’s things that he’s doing as a player that he still has to learn and grow, but there’s also freedom in what he’s doing.”

Before Friday’s game, right fielder Austin Meadows was scratched from the lineup. He tested positive for COVID-19, and with the open roster spot, the Tigers decided to promote Greene to the majors.

“His string of bad luck and bad fortune continues,” Hinch said of Meadows, who already missed three weeks with vertigo. “He was feeling symptomatic. … He will be out for a bit as he battles that virus.”

As Greene enters his new role, he will be joined in the outfield by Robbie Grossman in left and Victor Reyes in right. Once Meadows is healthy, he will return to his starting role, leaving the Tigers to choose between Grossman and Reyes at one of the corner spots.

Grossman is hitting .195 with a .296 on-base percentage in 48 games, while Reyes — twice injured this season — is hitting .311 with a .340 OBP in 16 games. Grossman, despite leading the Tigers with 23 home runs last season, is still searching for his first homer this season.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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