Draft profile: Tigers pick Green gets new lease on life

Tony Paul, The Detroit News

Editor’s note: Latest in a series looking at the Tigers’ first 10 draft picks.

Max Green recently informed a reporter he has signed his professional contract.

Then, when asked whether he got slot value, he chuckled and said, “Well ...”

Max Green, the Tigers’ eighth-round pick, pitched in just 12 games this past season at Pepperdine because of a suspension.

No, he didn’t get slot value for the pick, not even close, despite coming off his junior season at Pepperdine. Green received $20,000, when value for the eight-round pick was $154,900.

“My agent said something,” Green said. “He said, ‘The signing bonus doesn’t matter unless it’s your final contract.’ ”

And Green, given a new lease on his baseball life, doesn’t plan on this being his final contract, as the Tigers took a shot on a lanky left-hander from a privileged background — who made some serious mistakes in college.

Green admittedly wasn’t much interested in non-baseball activities, and when he missed a math class during his junior season, his head coach had seen enough. He was off the team for six weeks, and things never really got reconciled between Green and Rick Hirtensteiner.

Green pitched in just 12 games this past season, after leading the team with 23 appearances as a sophomore.

So, yeah, it wasn’t a great year. To quote Green’s favorite TV show, he was “The Walking Dead.”

“Well I didn’t really,” Green said, when asked how he managed to get back into the coaching staff’s good graces. “It’s a whole life thing. Within that six weeks, I was off the team, I lost baseball, I was out of school, my girlfriend of four years dumped me. Everything that could’ve went bad, went bad.

“I’ve come from a very good life, and it’s the first consequences I’ve ever faced in my life.

“It taught me how to be a man, honestly. Pretty much, I had everything I wanted, until Mommy and Daddy can’t help you when you’re not on the team.”

Green, who turned 21 last month, comes from a privileged background, in Rolling Hills Estates, where the kids surf and the parents make bank. The median household income there is nearly $200,000.

So, from that standpoint, signing for just $20,000 isn’t that big a deal. As Green admitted, “I have a pretty large safety net, being blessed with that.”

Left-hander Max Green led Pepperdine in appearances a sophomore (23), but appeared in just 12 games last season because of a suspension.

But his upbringing might’ve helped sculpt the kid who went awry at Pepperdine, located in majestic Malibu.

By all accounts, there are few harder workers on the baseball field than Green, who can touch 96 mph with his fastball, throws a developed change-up and also carries a nasty slider.

But being a student-athlete is about more than just athletics, and Green seemed to never grasp that concept, until it was too late. Not that it’s too late.

“That’s part of the growth process,” said Rolando Garza, Green’s pitching coach at Pepperdine — who also coached another Tigers pitching prospect, Austin Sodders, at UC-Riverside.

“I’m fully confident that things that maybe weren’t accomplished in the classroom and off the field are only going to set him up for great success as a human being.

“It was a part of his process, and his path and understanding himself and creating growth.”

Green hasn’t spoken to his old head coach since he left the team — he initially was mad at the world about his situation, before he realized he really had to look in the mirror — he still keeps in regular touch with Garza, a man he jokingly calls “the second coming of Jesus.”

“He’s like my second dad,” Green said the other day from Lakeland, before he heads off to join short-season A-ball in Connecticut. “He’ll be my mentor for life. If I ever have a problem, I can talk to him. The person I feel for, more than myself, was the fact I disappointed him, that I couldn’t pitch for him.

“In the accountability stuff, I just never got to show him who I was entirely as a person. He knew me inside. Hopefully, now, moving forward on this road, he’ll be able to see the man I am.”

With those comments relayed to him, Garza said Green didn’t let him down.

But Garza was thrilled to hear Green be open about his shortcomings. In his interview with The News, Green volunteered, unprompted, his whole back story.

“I’ve never taken it that the student-athlete or player has let me down,” Garza said. “It’s, what could I have done more to help him along with any distractions.

“I’m happy he’s being honest. That’s part of him creating growth.”

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Green’s college statistics were nothing spectacular, even that sophomore year, when he had a heavy workload. He had a 3.96 ERA and struck out only 17 in 36.1 innings, while opponents hit .301 against him.

It was the following summer that he stood out for scouts, pitching in Minnesota in the Northwoods League. He also got to throw at the MLB Dreams Showcase, and “I was throwing gas there.”

His velocity that summer sat 92 to 95 mph, and occasionally touched a tick higher. The change-up, usually the last pitch of development, was well beyond his years. He throws a modified circle change that he initially had trouble throwing with slowing down his arm, a flaw that would tip off hitters. That summer, he committed to it and started throwing it harder, and started seeing some great results.

Back at school in the fall, this past season, while limited because of the suspension, he saw the strikeouts trend up, to 15 in 16.1 innings.

It was enough for the Tigers to take a shot on a “money-saver” pick.

This is Green’s second chance, one for which he is grateful. The rest of the story will be up to him.

And lots of folks will be watching and pulling for him, his parents, Joseph and Stacy, certainly among them.

“Oof, they were obviously extremely disappointed,” Green said of his parents’ reaction to his being booted off Pepperdine’s team. “But they supported me in the transition, with me vowing to be a new person. It was a whole character thing. It wasn’t just me messing up in school, it was me just flowing through life.

“I would put all my eggs in one basket, the baseball field. I always worked hard on the baseball field and in the gym, but, ‘I don’t need to do my homework right now, I’m tired.’ It was a one-sided life, you know.

“And Coach Garza always said, ‘How you are off the field reflects how you are on the field.’ ”

Get to know ...

Max Green, LHP

Age: 21 (May 28, 1996)

Height/weight: 6-1/175

Hometown: Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.

College: Pepperdine

Draft: Eighth round, 245th overall ($154,900 value; signed for $20,000)

Fun fact: Green’s favorite musician is Jimi Hendrix, and his favorite non-baseball activity is snowboarding. He also likes to surf.