Detroit Tigers won’t guarantee Riley Greene as full-time leadoff hitter, center fielder

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers don’t have a problem.

They’re just strategizing.

In this year’s spring training, Riley Greene will sometimes play somewhere other than center field and sometimes hit somewhere other than the leadoff spot. He still could be the Opening Day center fielder and leadoff hitter, but the Tigers want to evaluate all their options entering the 2023 season.

“He’s going to be in the multi-position group,” Hinch said. “He’s going to play one of the corners, if not both of the corners, this spring to give ourselves a little bit of optionality. He knows it. He’s on board.”

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Greene, 22, handled the situation like a professional interested in winning above all else. The 2019 No. 5 overall pick is expected to be one of the Tigers’ best players, if not the best player, this season.

On Sunday, Greene hit leadoff and played center field in his first spring training game.

“Whatever I can do to make the team better and help the team win, I’m going to do that,” Greene said. “If that means going to the corners, I’ll do it. I don’t really care as long as I can help in some way.”

He hit .253 with five home runs, 36 walks and 120 strikeouts over 93 games last season. His walk rate, 8.6%, was slightly above average, while his strikeout rate, 28.7%, was below average.

He started all 93 games in center field.

He hit leadoff in 76 of those games.

Greene also batted second (nine times), third (once), fourth (three times), fifth (three times) and sixth (once) in the batting order during his rookie season. After 10 games, he became the primary leadoff hitter until the final week.

“We’ll flirt with a few different things,” Hinch said. “The best version of him is going to stay in that top third of the lineup somewhere. Matchup dependent, we could mess with that a little bit.”

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Three players, not including Greene, could play center field for the Tigers this season: Matt Vierling, Parker Meadows and Jonathan Davis. Akil Baddoo, who has played center in the past, is unlikely to return to the position.

Davis is a non-roster invitee to spring training, meaning he would need to be added to the 40-man roster if he makes the Opening Day roster. The Tigers added Meadows, a 23-year-old prospect who hasn’t played above Double-A Erie, to the 40-man in November.

As for Davis, the 30-year-old has played 135 of his 155 games in his MLB career as a center fielder. In 2022, he hit .224 with a .344 on-base percentage in 37 games for the Milwaukee Brewers.

He has been praised for his speed and defense.

Vierling, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Gregory Soto trade, ranked in the 97th percentile in sprint speed last season, though his outfielder jump ranked in the 5th percentile.

“Vierling will play a little bit of center,” Hinch said. “I have no idea what that looks like. We might still come back to Riley Greene at center field only, but we’re going to take a look at it in the spring.”

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In the minor leagues, Greene played 150 games in center field, 27 games in right field and 18 games in left field. His outfielder jump, a product of his pre-pitch preparation, ranked in the 75th percentile last season, but his sprint speed ranked in the 59th percentile.

Greene believes he can handle all three positions.

“We switch (positions) in live reads for (batting practice),” Greene said. “I’ll take (fly balls) in left field, right field and center field. I’ll take them everywhere just so I’m used to it in case he does decide to move me to the corners.”

And he’s going to be a key piece of the offense.

“Our best lineup has him in the top third,” Hinch said.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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