How Detroit Tigers' Riley Greene found his swing — and his swagger — in Toledo
Detroit Tigers outfielder Riley Greene got a wake-up call in July's summer camp at Comerica Park. The team's No. 4 prospect, projected as a cornerstone of the franchise's rebuild, was already on the fast track to the major leagues, but July's workout forced him to make mental adjustments.
Not only was the pitching more advanced than he'd previously seen — his last organized competition came in Single-A West Michigan in 2019, his first season of pro ball — but the game itself was much faster. Just over a year prior, he was the Tigers' No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 draft out of high school.
In the scrimmages, though, Greene had to fight to keep up.
Once camp was over at the end of July — with the minor-league season canceled — he was assigned to the alternate training site in Toledo. There he faced a few more gritty battles, going up against Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal (who both made the majors in 2020) along with others on the cusp.
Greene, 20, is now a better player because of what he learned.
"Probably one of the best things for me," Greene said Wednesday about his time in camp and with the reserve squad. "I learned a lot about myself as a player. ... I was there to get better. It worked. My swing right now feels better than it's ever felt in my life. And I put on a couple of pounds when I was there, too. That was the best thing for me."
Greene was never in the running for a call-up in 2020, something that was made clear when the Tigers called up No. 7 prospect Daz Cameron on Sept. 9 to replace struggling left fielder Christin Stewart.
One day later, Alan Trammell — a Hall of Famer and special assistant to general manager Al Avila — explained the decision. He spent most of his summer training prospects at the alternate training site (with a specific focus on No. 1 prospect Spencer Torkelson's transition to third base).
He kept a close eye on Greene, sharing words of advice along the way.
"That's not part of the deal," Trammell said in September. "He's doing quite well. I will say that this kid is ahead of the curve, so to speak. Again, this experience that he's gaining this year is invaluable, but he's not quite ready. Let's just leave it at that. But he's a fine young man and he's played very well down in Toledo."
In 57 games for three teams — the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers (nine games), Low-A Connecticut (24 games) and Single-A West Michigan (24 games) — in 2019, Greene hit .271 with eight doubles, three triples, five home runs and 28 RBIs.
Camp, though, was a new challenge. Greene didn't change his swing mechanics. Instead, he focused on hitting into the gaps and toward the middle of the field. He learned to keep his hands in check, staying inside the ball, rather than letting the bat get out too far in front of his hands.
He discovered the importance of being on time with each swing.
"Certainly, we're very high on him," Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said Monday. "He's advanced. It won't surprise me if he moves fast with the way he's swinging the bat and the overall package, as well."
Greene also said he believes he's a better outfielder. Yes, even beyond the promise he showed in a highlight-reel catch to rob first baseman C.J. Cron of a home run in summer camp. That day, he timed his jump perfectly, extending his right arm over the left-field fence to give reliever Gregory Soto a break.
But on more typical fly balls, he says he is wiser in his routes and decision-making. Now training in the Tigers' instructional league in Lakeland, Florida, he wants to improve his speed — both in the outfield and on the bases. He was 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts in 2019.
"I want to be able to steal more bags," he said. "We're gonna work. I'm not gonna be some huge guy. I'm gonna try to balance it out, make sure I'm not bulking up the wrong way."
Another thing to consider: Three months after last hearing from Greene in summer camp, he speaks with a little more swagger.
"My confidence is the highest it's ever been," Greene said. "When I was at the alternate site in Toledo, my swing got way better. I feel way more comfortable with my swing. This swing is going to be the swing I have for a long time."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.