Scout’s daughter helped Detroit Tigers get insight on Riley Greene every other team missed

Detroit Free Press

It’s easy to forget now.

But there were plenty of critics when the Detroit Tigers drafted Riley Greene with the fifth pick in 2019:

Riley Greene is not fast enough. Not athletic enough and has a fringy arm. Best pure high school hitter in this draft class but has a hitch in his swing and below-average tools everywhere else. Projects as a corner outfielder, maybe just a first baseman.

Others were even more critical, suggesting the Tigers should have drafted shortstop C.J. Abrams, who was taken with the next pick by the San Diego Padres.

But Greene has made everybody forget those concerns, soaring through the Tigers minor league system, excelling at every level as he became the No. 2 prospect in baseball (according to MLB Pipeline). Just 21, he’s being called up to Detroit and will make his long-anticipated Major League debut Saturday against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. He would have started the season in Detroit if he didn’t break his foot from a foul ball in spring training.

“I couldn’t be more excited for Riley and his family,” said James Orr, the Tigers’ national crosschecker. “The kid has done nothing but impress.”

Orr played an instrumental role in scouting Greene, although he was quick to spread credit to the entire organization. “This wasn’t one person,” Orr said. “We are a great team together. Alan Trammell was on board. (Assistant GM) David Chadd was huge on board. I remember him pounding Al Avila: ‘Riley Greene, Al, Riley Greene!’ Jim Leyland loved him. Our scouts loved him — everybody.”

Detroit summer concert rundown: The season is fully hopping for the first time since 2019 ]

Yes, everybody loved Greene.

Because they knew so much about this young outfielder from Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida. The Tigers, over several years, developed a deep relationship with Greene and knew him better than any other organization.

It’s fascinating, how that came about.

And it’s a story that strays far from the field.

Because it started when Orr was looking for a better school district for his kids.

A little luck

About six years ago, Orr moved his family from Orlando to a house in Oviedo so his kids could attend Hagerty.

“We didn’t move that far,” Orr said. “Basically, we were trying to get my kids into a better school district. I have three daughters. Hagerty is a better school, better academics, better athletics, all that stuff. Well, it’s the best move my family ever made for a lot of reasons — for them personally, and then obviously, for this to happen.”

At the time of the move, Orr had never heard of Greene. Not until Greene was a freshman and already committed to play baseball at Florida. As luck would have it — at least for the Tigers — Orr was close friends with Kevin O’Sullivan, the Gators’ head coach.

“We started talking about Riley,” Orr said. “I was fortunate enough to have that information right off the bat.”

Orr was working as the Tigers East Coast crosschecker, and his responsibility included scouting players from Florida, Puerto Rico, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

This required him to travel extensively, swooping into different states for quick stops, checking out high profile players on the advice of the area scouts.

The Tigers’ area scout who covered Oviedo was R.J. Burgess, who had been the organization’s minor league video coordinator until being hired as an area scout in August 2015.

But Orr took an unusual role in scouting Greene — a true hands-on approach — because he had such a close connection to him.

“I’m the one that lives over here,” Orr said. “I’m the one that’s around him. I’m the one that ends up getting to know the kid and the family, a whole year before the draft plus.”

But it went way beyond baseball.

“My daughter is friends with kids that Riley is friends with,” Orr said. “My daughters are softball players, and they ended up taking hitting lessons from Riley’s dad. I mean, this was well before the draft.”

When the Tigers scheduled a home visit to meet with Greene, Burgess and Orr went together.

“I was fortunate enough to get to know Riley and his family ahead of time,” Orr said. “Did I think all this was gonna happen like this? Not necessarily, but I knew he was a good player. And he was a great kid, and the family was awesome. The whole process was genuine.”

More Seidel: Riley Greene is the alpha male of Detroit Tigers’ rebuild, the leader down in Lakeland

Private showcase

There were several pivotal moments for the Tigers in scouting Greene.

In January 2019, the Tigers held their annual winter organizational meetings in Lakeland, Florida.

“We had meetings in Lakeland like we always do to kind of kick-start the spring and we bring our scouts in,” Orr said.

When the meetings ended, Orr set up a special, private showcase for Scott Pleis, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting, to see Greene take batting practice at his dad’s batting cage in Oviedo.

Alan Greene has a simple, one-tunnel batting cage, a couple miles from Orr’s house.

“It’s not like he’s got some big fancy, multi-, multi-million dollar facility,” Orr said. “It’s very basic, and it’s great. I set it up where we could watch and get to know Riley. Scott Pleis and Steve Hinton, our other national crosschecker at the time, went to watch.”

Alan Greene threw batting practice to his son, a senior in high school.

“Scott got to stand there and watch his swing and really just talk to Riley and get the mental side,” Orr said.

Pleis was impressed.

“That’s when we all looked at each other and said, ‘This could happen. This could be a fit here. This may end up being our guy,’” Orr said.

‘He looked the part’

In March 2019, the Tigers sent a contingent to watch Greene play in a game.

“David Chadd said he was going over to Orlando to see this kid Riley Greene,” said Leyland, the former Tigers manager. “He wanted to know if I would go over with him and look at him. As it turned out, Alan Trammell came along, too.”

It was just a normal high school game but it featured an intriguing matchup. Greene faced Brandon Barriera, a freshman lefty pitching playing for Westminster Academy.

“You could tell when Greene walked into the batter’s box, this was somebody different,” Leyland said. “This was a kid with a presence. This was a poised kid with a good swing. You know, he looked the part, but I didn’t know we were gonna get him. I didn’t know where they would have him in our list or anything like that because I’m not involved in that at all. But yeah, he was special.”

At the same time, Orr’s daughter was playing softball on a nearby field.

“I’m able to stand there with our Hall of Fame stud Alan Trammell and it’s a treasure that he goes and watches amateur players with us,” Orr said. “And I’m with Jim Leyland, who in my eyes is a Hall of Fame manager. Just tremendous baseball guys.”

Orr remembers Barriera throwing in the high 80s and low 90s. “First at bat of the game, Riley hits a frickin’ missile line drive to center field,” Orr said. “Riley smoked it and, and then late in the game, Riley made some phenomenal diving catch, selling out. It was a web gem, and they all saw it.”

They saw what Orr had been seeing for years.

Interesting side note: Barriera transferred to American Heritage in Plantation, Florida; he’s a first-round prospect in the 2022 MLB draft, projected around the 15th pick, close to the Tigers’ pick at No. 12.

More Seidel: Tigers prospect Riley Greene has been ‘ridiculous’ since the beginning

The perceptions

Orr has a theory on how reports of poor athleticism became a prevailing opinion. Greene has a high, two-handed finish to his swing, which slows his start out of the box.

“You’re at these different events, and you’re not getting great run times down the line on Riley,” Orr said. “It’d be like, ‘Oh, he just grounded out and he ran a 4.5,’ which is like a below average time.”

Greene played on a U.S. squad that won the Pan-American Championships. That roster was bursting with talent, and included Bobby Witt Jr. (taken No. 2 overall in 2019), Abrams (No. 6 in 2019), Corbin Carroll (No. 16 overall to Arizona in 2019), Dylan Crews (an outfielder at LSU who’s expected to be a high 2023 pick) and Anthony Volpe (No. 30 overall to the Yankees in 2019).

Team USA coaches used Greene at first base and designated hitter to get his bat in the lineup.

“It’s a phenomenal roster,” Orr said. “Well, you know how scouts are, they were watching guys going, ‘Oh, wait, Riley is playing first base. He must not be a great athlete.’

“Well, looking back on it. You got all these studs that were playing on that team. And they were just trying to fit the best bats from the roster into the lineup.”

Greene led the team with 20 RBIs, three home runs and tied for the team lead with 18 runs scored.

But the perceptions started to stick.

“As a whole, the industry started to say: ‘Oh, he’s not a great athlete. He’s a corner guy,’ ” Orr said. “They put him in that box.”

But the industry didn’t know about the other boxes.

The ones he was jumping up on.

More: Yes, Tigers fans: It’s safe to be excited about Riley Greene

Better intel

Before the draft, I was working on a story about Greene, and his father sent me several video clips of Riley working out at a CrossFit center. Alan Greene was trying to show how hard his son was working to improve his explosiveness, and how he had more athleticism than people knew.

Orr was getting inside information about those same workouts — his daughter was working out at the same place and saw Greene.

Orr lives so close to the cross-fit gym that he could walk there.

“I was getting those videos basically live or getting them from his dad and from those coaches,” he said. “He’s doing these crazy box jumps, he’s jumping over PVC pipes.”

While the baseball industry had one view of Greene, Orr was developing his own, based on far better intelligence.

“I knew this kid had big-time explosive ability that people weren’t seeing,” said Orr, who lives across the street from that CrossFit gym. “I knew he could dunk a basketball. I knew that it was better than what guys were seeing.”

“I was just fortunate to have that information.”

Strong makeup

Orr had other inside information about Riley.

“My eldest daughter got to be around him and his friends,” Orr said. “We got to know how good of a kid he was. I couldn’t find one person at the school, one teacher, one coach, one administrator, one person that would ever say a bad thing about him.

“I learned as a scout, you ask girls about guys, right? Like, ‘Hey, what kind of guy is he?’ You couldn’t find one girl that would ever say anything bad about Riley Greene.”

Then, to make this circle even tighter, Orr started taking his daughters to Alan Greene for hitting lessons.

“I think he’s a very good hitting coach,” Orr said. “He’s a very knowledgeable guy. He did a great job with Riley. I think Riley is a combination of his dad’s tutelage and also God-given ability. He’s got a special talent. There is no doubt though, that Alan did a great job with Riley.”

But Riley has something else — an emotional calmness he gets from his mother, Lisa.

“Riley doesn’t get too high,” Orr said. “He doesn’t get too low. And I think that part of his game, his personality comes from mom. She is a tremendous lady. She’s the rock of their family, a phenomenal lady and businesswoman.”

‘Everybody loves him’

Since the draft, the circle has gotten even tighter. Orr has become close with Alan and Lisa.

Maybe that’s not surprising. They live in the same town, are about the same age, have similar interests, and their kids are all friends with the same kids.

“He checked all the boxes — work ethic, off-the-field makeup, on-the-field makeup, athlete, explosive tools. I mean, there was just so much that we liked about him. And he’s just, he’s done everything you could ever ask a kid to do, especially at 18 years old, what he’s done at 18, 19, 20, 21 years old. It’s been phenomenal. He’s a stud.”

Riley’s rise through the minors has included dramatic home runs and highlight-reel catches.

But it’s the same off the field.

“He goes over to the Oviedo Babe Ruth Little League and works with kids,” Orr said. “He goes and visits classrooms. My wife is an elementary school teacher and he goes to her school. He’s just selfless. The Tigers couldn’t have asked for a better guy. He’s a driven kid. He’s smart. He’s got a great baseball mind. He is a great teammate. …  Everybody loves him.”

More: Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson face a task with Tigers that’s 4 decades old

Welcome to The Show

After a fantastic spring training, Greene looked like a lock to make the big-league roster. But he fouled a ball off his foot, breaking a bone.

“He could have driven home and sulked and not handled it well,” Orr said. “But you know what he did? He talked to his parents, and he said, ‘I’m not coming home.’

“He stayed in Lakeland. He stayed in a friggin’ hotel. I kept talking to him. He’d get up early. I think he would report by 7:30 a.m., and in the beginning, he couldn’t drive because he’s in a walking boot. So I believe Jake Rogers was picking him up in the beginning.

“Riley never went home. He didn’t go home for Easter. He didn’t go home for anything, because he was so driven on getting back and getting himself right. He would work his butt off. And he never left.”

And he got himself healthy.

Now, he’s heading to Detroit.

Greene’s stature has climbed so high that he is expected to become a foundational piece of the Tigers’ rebuild. But there are bound to be ups and downs, growing pains and lessons to be learned.

“Young players are young players for a reason,” Leyland said. “Don’t expect Riley Greene to come up here and hit balls out left, center, right center, just carry this team because it’s probably not gonna happen. But, you know, you’ll see a future potential star.”

He paused.

“Future and potential?” Leyland said. “Without a question.”

More Seidel: Hype for Tigers’ Colt Keith grows: ‘I never seen anybody hit the ball harder’

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

Articles You May Like

Detroit Tigers’ A.J. Hinch won’t quash contract speculation: ‘I feel good being here’
Tigers face sink-or-swim stretch of games heading into All-Star break
Watch Riley Greene’s weekend highlight reel of defensive gems
Detroit Tigers game score vs. San Francisco Giants: TV, time, probable pitchers
Greene continues to impress in center field 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.