Tigers’ minor league C Grayson Greiner eyes another chance at MLB

LASIK surgery helped him climb out of hole at plate; could he help Detroit in 2017?

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

PEORIA, Ariz. – At this time last year, Grayson Greiner already had shaken off a season of struggles, his sights set firmly on the off-season.

“I had a terrible year,” he said. “I crawled in a big hole offensively.”

And the Detroit Tigers’ catching prospect started digging out of it with his sight.

Last January, Greiner underwent LASIK eye surgery, a 30-minute procedure to attain 20-20 vision. After years of wearing contacts — many times having them dry up on him during games — he felt the difference almost immediate.

“It helped a ton,” he said. “Picking up spin and controlling the strike zone, it’s helped tremendously.”

Greiner was told about it by a former college teammate who said it helped turn his professional career around.

“I was like, ‘All right, I might just as well go ahead and get it done,’ ” he said. “In baseball, you need your eyes to play, and that’s my career, so I might as well have it done. It was a no-brainer for me.”

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The results were obvious: In 2016, Greiner hit .293 in the minor leagues, mostly at Double-A Erie, and was promoted twice. Now, he is competing in the Arizona Fall League. He started off hot but has cooled lately, albeit not enough for the team’s excitement to cool.

Asked at the Major League Baseball general managers meetings which prospect outside of the most talked-about few was worth watching entering next spring training, Tigers GM Al Avila said Greiner.

“It was a good year for me overall,” Greiner said. “I took measures to make sure I got myself ready, and it helped. My legs stayed fresh for 140 games, and I was much more prepared.”

Greiner’s 2015 season started with a broken finger suffered while catching his first bullpen session of the spring in big league camp. His 2016 season started in minor league camp.

“It motivated me a little bit,” he said. “But I didn’t really expect to get invited. You gotta earn it. I didn’t feel like I earned it at all. Offensively, I had such a poor year, and they’re not just going to invite anybody to big league camp. Those are for guys that have earned it.

“I didn’t earn it in 2015, and that really motivated me in the off-season to put in that much more work to get myself back to where I thought I should be offensively and continue to do what I’ve been doing defensively.”

Related: Avila laying groundwork for leaner payroll in winter meetings

Greiner is a big boy. Perhaps too big to play catcher, some major league scouts think. He’s 6 feet 6 and 220 pounds. Still, in bouncing back from a poor season, Greiner has put himself in prime position within the organization. He finished the season at Triple-A Toledo and could start there as a backup, though starting the season at Erie under ex-Tigers catcher Lance Parrish is the best bet.

This season, he did not commit an error. On Thursday, he went 1-for-3 with a strikeout and walk.

“I just want to work on being more consistent offensively,” he said. “I built on that this past year in Double-A and got to see a little bit of what that was like when I was up there for a couple months. I started out slow and started to figure some things ot and had a really good last month.”

His main focus this fall has been reducing strikeouts. He has fanned nine times in 37 at-bats, though he is facing top-notch talent in the Arizona Fall League. “I’ve been trying to be a little more patient at the plate and waiting for my pitch as opposed to hitting a pitcher’s pitch,” Greiner said. “It’s been a really good experience out here. I’m pretty pleased with the way I’ve caught and the way I’ve handled myself out here.”

And the way he handled a bad 2015 season likely will have him back in major league spring training in 2017.

Contact Anthony Fenech: Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Download our Tigers Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!