What to expect from Riley Greene

Detroit Tigers

It’s a delayed debut, but that’s only made it even more highly anticipated.

The Tigers are calling up No. 2 overall prospect Riley Greene to the Majors on Saturday, the club announced. Fellow outfielder Austin Meadows is headed to the COVID-19 injured list, which makes room for Greene on the Detroit 26-man roster, but Greene is expected to remain with the Major League team beyond Meadows’ return given his potential and stature.

The 21-year-old center fielder was a candidate to join former top Tigers prospect Spencer Torkelson on Detroit’s Opening Day lineup before he suffered a broken foot on a foul ball on April 1. He finally returned to a Minor League lineup with Single-A Lakeland on May 27 and had been with Triple-A Toledo since May 30. Greene hit .279/.347/.382 with one homer, four doubles and four steals in 17 games between those two clubs before this biggest transaction of his career.

But if you want a better example of what Greene is capable of offensively, look to his fuller 2021 numbers. Following the lost 2020 Minor League season, the Tigers challenged the left-handed slugger with an opening assignment to Double-A Erie less than two years after they selected him fifth overall in the 2019 Draft.

Greene, who looked advanced for his age at the 2020 alternate training site, backed up that confidence. He finished with a .301/.387/.534 line, 24 homers and 16 steals in 124 games between Erie and Toledo (where he arrived in mid-August last year). His 558 plate appearances led all 20-year-olds in the Minor Leagues, and he was the only player in his age group (one that included fellow Top 100 prospects Julio Rodríguez, C.J. Abrams and George Valera) to get even more than 250 PA at the top two levels of the Minors. (Note: Wander Franco was also 20 but moved to the Majors before he crossed that PA threshold.)

Greene was one of only three players of any age, at any level to receive at least 500 plate appearances, bat at least .300 and hit 20 or more home runs. The other two were Top 100 talents Jose Miranda (.344, 30 HR, 591 PA) and Miguel Vargas (.319, 23 HR, 542 PA).

The Florida native put himself in such rarified air in 2021 thanks to a fluid left-handed swing capable of driving the ball to all fields. He does especially well in using his lower half to create consistent hard contact. That said, Greene has always been prone to strikeout rates in the mid-20 percentages — partly because he’s always been challenged by advanced pitching. He can struggle with pitches lower in the zone and breaking stuff overall, so that will bear watching as he sees the Majors for the first time. He should still contend for .300 batting averages with 25-plus homers over full big league seasons because of the quality of contact — numbers that would make him an All-Star-caliber Major Leaguer.

While just an average runner, Greene has improved defensively over his three seasons in the Detroit system, and his instincts on the grass will help make him the Tigers’ everyday center fielder to begin his career. That will be especially true as he continues to test the previously injured foot that kept him out for all of April and most of May. An above-average arm will work well out there and would aid a move (if needed) to right field, where Greene played 21 games last season and two this year.

Of course, Tigers fans know a little something about bringing up a big-name prospect with major expectations this season. Torkelson has struggled out of the gate with just a .181/.281/.288 line and four homers through 203 plate appearances, and he’s yet to turn it around unlike other promising 2022 rookies like Rodríguez and Bobby Witt Jr. If there’s hope that Greene can avoid those early rough patches, it may be found in the fact that he enters the Majors with more upper-level experience than Torkelson had (139 games vs. 90), and that familiarity could ease the transition.

No matter how he plays out of the chute, Greene’s arrival provides a much-needed spark to a Tigers club that enters Friday’s play with a 24-39 record and sits 10 games back of the last American League Wild Card spot.

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