Tigers prospect Greiner figures it out at plate

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Grayson Greiner

If it’s possible to take an entire baseball season and bury it, burn it, dissolve it — whatever means of disposal — Grayson Greiner would happily rid himself of 2015.

The reason, evident in some harsh numbers, is Greiner batted .183 in 89 games at Single A Lakeland.

This was not seen as likely after the Tigers drafted him in the third round in 2014, thinking an accomplished catcher from the University of South Carolina would grow steadily into big-league material. Minds hadn’t changed after Greiner, 23, and a right-handed batter who stands a Sequoiaesque 6-foot-6, and weighs 220 pounds, had a crisp 2014 start at West Michigan, where he batted .322 with an .839 OPS in 26 games.

“Last year was miserable,” said Bruce Fields, the Tigers’ minor-league roving hitting instructor who has been charting Greiner since he signed with Detroit.

“But it was one of those years guys sometimes go through. They struggle and it’s kind of unexplained, especially because of that first summer when he came out and we got him for a month and he showed some real offensive ability.

“Then, last year, we pushed him to high ‘A’ and Lakeland and the Florida State League, and that’s a tough league. We thought he could compete and he struggled. It was a combination of him trying to do too much, getting in a hole, and then everything compounded itself. It just wasn’t a good year.”

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Fields and the Tigers development staff put together an offseason prescription for Greiner that was heavy on foundational orders. They saw during spring camp a new man, or, rather, a reminder of what they had first viewed in 2014.

Greiner, a South Carolinian born and educated, arrived at the Lakeland Single A stop in April and hit steadily, racking up a .312 batting average and .752 OPS before he was shipped last week to Double A Erie.

One reason for the promotion, apart from a trip to the disabled list for Erie catcher Austin Greene, is Greiner’s defense and ease with pitchers.

“One thing I know, is that last year, even though he really scuffled at the plate, it never affected his defense,” said Dave Owen, the Tigers’ director of player development. “To be that young, and not let your offense mess with your head says a lot about a man’s makeup and what he’s got inside.”

Fields had the same take.

“Defensively, he showed up every day,” Fields said. “That was the big thing, and that’s what makes him a true professional. Then he came back after he’d worked on some stuff over the winter, made some adjustments, and you could see a difference in him this spring at spring training. He swung the bat well and drove the ball all over, which we thought he was capable of doing.”

It has occurred to the Tigers staff that Erie could offer another dividend as Greiner adjusts to more complex Double A duties.

Lance Parrish manages the SeaWolves. Parrish was a premier big-league catcher who, at 6-3, 210, wasn’t quite at Greiner’s altitude, but as a big man can relate to Greiner’s challenges.

“It’s funny,” Fields said, “because somebody asked me the other day — how many catchers over 6-3 or 6-4 have played well in the history of the game? I tried to think of any. Mauer (Joe, Twins star) was a big catcher, but I don’t know if he’s as much 6-4 as maybe 6-3ish. And I couldn’t’ think of anybody else.

“But maybe it’s because those guys were put into different situations, at first base, or the outfield. Greiner’s a big guy, but he catches the ball well, he throws the ball well, and he blocks it well. We’ve just been hoping his swing comes around.”

Owen’s thoughts, exactly.

“Like Lance, he’s a big catcher,” Owen said, “and if you watch him he’s not going to be the prettiest guy out there, but he’s got really good arm-strength, and he’s accurate with his throws. And one of the big things to me is our guys like throwing to him. And if that’s the case, he’s doing the right thing.”

Noticeably lacking in Greiner’s minor-league numbers is power. He has hit five home runs since he signed, two at West Michigan and three last year for Lakeland. He has 23 doubles in 149 games.

It seems not to jibe with a man so large.

“Guys can have raw power,” Fields said, “but good pitching can minimize raw power. That’s because they can put pitches in positions where you can’t leverage them until you start to understand your swing.

“Gray will start to understand his swing and leverage it, because he’s got raw power. But in baseball you’ve got to walk before you run. The one thing I want to see is for him to square up the ball, use the whole field, get comfortable with your swing and your ankles and create hard contact. Once you get better at that, the power follows.”