DETROIT — The wait has been on for Riley Greene ever since he was an 18-year-old putting on a show in batting practice at Comerica Park the day he signed his first pro contract in June 2019, prompting Miguel Cabrera to beg Tigers brass to keep him around.
Three years, two weeks and 198 Minor League games later, the wait is over. Greene will make his Major League debut on Saturday afternoon in Detroit, where a crowd that has endured a season of challenges can’t wait to welcome him. Greene will start in center field on Saturday and bat sixth.
By no means should Greene be expected to turn around the Tigers’ season. Even fixing Detroit’s offensive struggles are more than any one player can solve. But Greene’s arrival gives hope for a brighter future as arguably the most talented offensive catalyst of the Tigers’ rebuild.
“We’d love for him to come up and be an immediate spark,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I do think it’s going to bring energy to the clubhouse. Everybody has been anticipating his arrival.”
Here’s what to know about Greene’s debut.
How can I watch the game?
If you can get to Comerica Park and want to watch in person, tickets are available. First pitch is at 4:10 ET. Allow some extra time for Michigan’s road construction season.
The game will be televised in Michigan and Northwest Ohio on Bally Sports Detroit, and nationally on FS1. The radio broadcast will be on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, the flagship station for the Tigers Radio Network, as well as MLB Gameday Audio.
Why is he such a big deal?
Greene has arguably the sweetest, most impactful swing to come through the Tigers’ system in years, certainly from the left side. That swing, crafted in his early years by his swing-coaching father, drew Detroit to select him out of high school with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 Draft, picking him over some advanced college hitters. He hit .301/.387/.534 last year with 25 doubles, eight triples, 24 home runs and 84 RBIs between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, despite being one of the youngest prospects in both leagues. He even swiped 16 bases in 17 attempts and played very well in center field with highlight catches at Erie.
The 21-year-old Greene would have been the Tigers’ starting center fielder on Opening Day if not for a fractured bone in his right foot, caused by a foul ball in an at-bat during the final days of Spring Training. Even that was a feat, because he hit a triple off Gerrit Cole on the very next pitch, running it out on a broken foot. He came back and hit .274/.338/.387 with Toledo with four doubles, a home run and six RBIs.
The countdown has been on ever since Greene returned from injury. But while several potential timetables were up for speculation, the ultimate determination came down to giving time for Greene to get back to his Spring Training form. The Tigers avoided calling him up when outfielder Daz Cameron went on the COVID-19 injured list last week, but they made the call after Austin Meadows suddenly went on the COVID IL on Friday.
“I think the kind of wish and hope for guys is that they’re dominating and they’re tearing up a league that makes it obvious when the time should come when he gets called up,” Hinch said. “I think he’s competing fine. He’s swinging the bat very well. He’s commanding the zone. He’s running the bases.
“There are things that he’s still doing as a player that he still has to learn and grow, but there’s also freedom in what he’s doing. We were being patient with him in giving him 50, 60, 70, 80 at-bats until we were going to make the call. We’d considered this weekend. We thought about some time on the road trip [next week]. So the conversations were ongoing. The roster need is unique, but it was a matter of days.”
How will the Tigers use him?
Greene is expected to take over as the Tigers’ regular center fielder, a position in which Detroit has used a variety of players in his place.
“One thing I’m not going to do is have him come up here and sit,” Hinch said, “so he’s going to play.”
The Tigers made sure to test Greene and his foot playing all around the outfield in Toledo before making the decision to call him up. He moved just fine. Any plays he didn’t make were more the result of reads or reactions than about health or movement.
What can we expect from Greene offensively?
Look for a little bit of everything. Greene doesn’t have one standout tool on his scouting grades, but he does a lot of things well above average, from pure hitting to power to running. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but makes up for it with his instincts and aggressiveness — a mentality that also carries to the plate. Though much of his power is to the pull side, he has a sneaky dangerous opposite-field swing, having hit a couple of well-struck doubles off the left-field wall during his brief Triple-A stint the last few weeks. Greene has battled strikeouts from time to time when his aggressive approach overrules his sharp eye for the strike zone, but he has a good knowledge for picking a pitch he can hit and setting up his opportunity to get it.
Few positions require more athleticism than center field in spacious Comerica Park. Greene more than holds his own there with a combination of quickness and instincts to go with a take-charge mentality. He has had to work hard at center, but he was motivated by scouting projections that tabbed him as a corner outfielder.
“He’s going to be more than equipped to handle the responsibilities here,” Hinch said.
What number will he wear?
Greene was one of the few players to have a set number before he was even on the 40-man roster. He has worn No. 31 since last Spring Training, though he wore Nos. 12 and 14 during his stint at Triple-A Toledo this month.
Where will he hit in the lineup?
Hinch found a comfort zone in Spring Training batting Greene in the bottom half of the order, and will do so again, at least to start out.
Hinch is wary of placing too much responsibility on Greene too soon. He can’t be the answer to Detroit’s offensive struggles, Hinch cautioned. Moreover, the adjustment fellow top prospect Spencer Torkelson has had to hitting in the big leagues is a warning about big expectations out the gate.
Who are Greene’s player comparisons?
Some have compared Greene’s all-around tools to that of Nick Markakis, a top-10 pick in the 2003 Draft whose sweet left-handed swing earned him a 15-year Major League career between Baltimore and Atlanta. If Greene can stick in center field, a comparison closer to Tigers’ hearts might be Curtis Granderson, whose all-around skillset made him an All-Star and a fan favorite in Detroit.
Greene is 21. He was born on Sept. 28, 2000. According to Baseball-Reference, he’ll be the fifth-youngest player in the Majors this year when he debuts, older than Atlanta’s Michael Harris, Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco, Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez and San Diego’s C.J. Abrams (currently in Triple-A). He’s a few months older than Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr., who was taken three picks earlier in the 2019 Draft.
Greene grew up in Oviedo, Fla., just northeast of Orlando. He starred at Paul J. Hagerty High School, the same school that produced Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin and Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle. Greene’s high-school classmate and good friend, Vaughn Grissom, was an 11th-round pick by the Braves in the same 2019 Draft and currently ranks as Atlanta’s No. 6 prospect.
How did the Tigers acquire him?
The Tigers had four consecutive top-5 picks from 2018-21. Greene was the fifth overall pick in ’19, sandwiched in between the years Detroit picked first overall and drafted Casey Mize (’18) and Torkelson (’20). He was the first high-school outfielder Detroit drafted with its top pick since Derek Hill went 23rd overall in 2014. Until Jackson Jobe went third overall last year, Greene was also the highest-drafted high schooler Detroit had taken since Tony Clark went second overall in 1990.