Detroit Tigers' Riley Greene reminds that Torkelson isn't the only hitting talent

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

A year ago, Riley Greene took batting practice at Comerica Park for the first time.

Greene, fresh off signing his rookie contract after the Detroit Tigers selected him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, made an early impression. Among those he wowed in his batting practice session were Al Kaline and Miguel Cabrera.

On Saturday, the Tigers' 2020 No. 1 pick, Spencer Torkelson, made his debut at Comerica Park in batting practice. People took notice.

Detroit Tigers outfielder Riley Greene showed off his talent July 5, 2020, during summer camp workouts at Comerica Park.

But halfway through Sunday afternoon’s workout, Greene reminded the team what it also has in him as he took batting practice, spraying baseballs with backspin around the field.  

He has a smooth swing from the left side, and on this day showed power to both fields — he twice hit home runs halfway up the seats in right field.

Perhaps most notable about his session was the kind of action his swing puts on the ball. With a bit of an uppercut swing, he gets good carry and his line drives seem to create a lot of spin.

Greene hit in the second group of batting practice, with Brady Policelli, 2020 second-round pick Dillon Dingler and an unidentified player.

Top prospect Casey Mize draws attention in first bullpen of summer camp ]

To the naked eye, it is difficult to believe that Greene is just 19 years old. He was drafted out of high school in Oviedo, Florida, and rose two levels in the minor-league system in just half a season — in his first year as a professional.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann goes through drills during practice at Comerica Park on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

Between rookie ball, Class A Connecticut and West Michigan, he hit .271 with five home runs and 28 RBIs. He perhaps could have started this season at Class A Lakeland had minor-league baseball not canceled the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, he received an easy ticket into the Tigers’ 60-man player pool. He and Torkelson have zero chance of debuting in 2020. But the Tigers could not risk their brightest prospects losing an entire year of development time.

[ Matt Manning looks ready to push the envelope on Tigers' 2020 plans ]

Detroit Tigers catcher Austin Romine walks off the field after batting practice at Comerica Park on July 5, 2020.

In his first look in front of reporters this summer, Greene showed why he is regarded that way.

Other observations from the first three days of camp:

1. There's a lot of starting pitching

Not just at the big-league level, where they have penciled in a five-man rotation of Matthew Boyd, Daniel Norris, Ivan Nova, Spencer Turnbull and Jordan Zimmermann, but well beyond.

[ Tigers' Fulmer looks to be in best shape of life: Will his elbow hold up? ]

First is Michael Fulmer, whose physical appearance was most impressive among pitchers and catchers. Then there are the top starting pitching prospects in right-handers Matt Manning, Casey Mize and lefty Tarik Skubal.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Ivan Nova throws in the bullpen during practice at Comerica Park on July 5, 2020.

Don’t forget about Alex Faedo. And though you cannot be blamed for doing so, also don’t forget about Franklin Perez.

2. Perez’s future

Perez threw a bullpen session Saturday afternoon. You have to try to not see a big-league future in his body. Perez, just 22 years old, has grown to 6-foot-3, 197 pounds.

Of course, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy in the slightest.

As the biggest piece acquired from the trade with the Astros three seasons ago, his standing has certainly lost its luster. Historically, the Tigers haven’t been inclined to move their starting pitchers into relief roles until it’s a last-case scenario.

They likely aren’t at that point with Perez, but watching him, you could certainly see a back-end reliever in there. For the Tigers, the time may come when they have to see if he can’t stay healthier in a different role. Either way, he’s just big out there.

[ Miguel Cabrera offers sneak peek at potential comeback season: What we saw ]

3. Miggy is in a good mood

As manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday morning, Cabrera’s positivity has been noticeable. On Saturday, he walked out of the dugout, waving to team staffers in the crowd and didn’t stop dancing through the stretching portion of the day.

The youngsters certainly have injected some excitement into camp, but don’t discount the Tigers’ veteran additions in the offseason.

Though guys such as C.J. Cron, Austin Romine and Jonathan Schoop aren’t household names, they are legitimate major league players, and that kind of support is probably welcome to Cabrera.

Contact Anthony Fenech at afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.