July 13, 2014 at 10:04 pm

At 6-6, Grayson Greiner a tall order at catcher for West Michigan

Typically, draft picks fresh from June’s draft — college picks, anyway — are often stationed at that short-season outpost, Single A Connecticut, where they get their moorings as professional baseball players.

Even more typically, men who are 6-foot-6, seldom find themselves working as catchers.

Grayson Greiner is not from any contemporary mold or cookie-cutter. He was the Tigers’ third-round pick last month following a heavy career at the University of South Carolina.

And because he was straight from a Southeastern Conference baseball power and had competed against the land’s most sophisticated college competition, the Tigers skipped Connecticut and funneled him to Single A West Michigan, where he has been acclimating to minor-league life.

Greiner, 21, and a South Carolinian by birth, is batting .321 in 16 games for the Whitecaps. He has been cold of late, but still carrying an .851 OPS, in part thanks to a right-handed batter’s two home runs and two doubles.

But it has been his primary job, working at catcher for the Whitecaps, that has most impressed West Michigan manager Andrew Graham, an Australia native who was a catcher in the Tigers system (2003-07) before turning to managing.

“It’s really quite amazing,” Graham said Sunday. “He makes adjustments really quickly, especially when these guys from college haven’t called a game themselves. He says the pitching coach called all the games where he went.

“But he adapts quickly and doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He receives really well — one passed ball on a tough pitch — and has quick hands.

“He’s a big guy, 6-6, and I can relate to him a little bit,” said Graham, who is 6-4. “He needs to work a little bit on blocking, but he has a good, above-average arm. He just needs to be a bit quicker (in set-up and throw).”

Greiner, who last month signed a bonus contract worth $529,400, began his Whitecaps life as if he intended to skip Single A altogether. He was 8-for-17 in his first four games before realities settled in. Graham, though, has a hunch Greiner will have steadier numbers as the Tigers wait on a prospect who, like most young catchers, needs extended time on the farm.

Greiner has struck out 11 times and coaxed six walks in 56 official at-bats.

“He’s a guy who’s not an easy out,” Graham said. “He puts the barrel of the bat on the ball. He rocks back in his stance a bit, and he puts the ball in play. But he also shows signs of power with those two home runs. He’s got a nice, square, compact swing.”

Graham’s review is in line with a scouting report offered by Baseball America as Greiner became that somewhat rare early-round position pick by a Tigers team that tends to go early and often with pitching.

“A three-year starter at South Carolina,” Baseball America wrote, “Greiner has come a long way from his freshman year when he was seen as an easy out and batted just .222. His offensive game has progressed as he’s learned to tap more consistently into his solid-average power.

“At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds (the Tigers list him at 6-6), he’s tall for a catcher and has a long swing, and most scouts grade him below-average as a hitter. He handled pitchers well for Team USA last summer and receives velocity well. Greiner fits a backup-catcher profile, with a chance to be a regular, if his bat continues to progress.”

West Michigan is one of those exceptions to the Tigers’ general farm story in 2014. Position players (Greiner, Willy Adames, Javier Betancourt, etc.) have also been in supply, if not on the level of the Whitecaps’ ongoing story, which is pitching (Austin Kubitza, Buck Farmer, Jonathon Crawford, et al).

The bullpen has likewise been tough, thanks to the likes of Zac Reininger, 21, a 6-3, 170-pound right-hander who in 18 games (30 innings) has a .194 opposing batting average and a 2.70 ERA.

In his last 10 games, Reininger’s ERA is 1.50 and batters are hitting .154 against him. He has struck out 19 in his last 18 innings, walked five, and allowed 10 hits. Reininger was an eighth-round pick in 2013 (Hill Junior College, Texas).

“He’s keeping the ball down,” Graham said of a pitcher who missed considerable time early in 2014. “When he first got here and was dealing with that ankle injury, he was leaving the ball up. But his arm is back to where it was earlier.

“He’s got a nice slider and a change-up. He’s got three good pitches. He just needs to keep working on keeping the ball low.”


Grayson Greiner, who caught at the University of South Carolina, is a 6-foot-6 catcher. He was the Tigers' third-round pick last month. / Richard Shiro / Associated Press