Grayson Greiner anxious to validate Gardenhire's faith, seize starting catcher role

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Grayson Greiner

Detroit — Not that he’s complaining, mind you. He’s beyond thrilled for the opportunity, wouldn’t want it any other way.

But let’s be honest, the Tigers are asking an awful lot of Grayson Greiner. Just 26 years old, with a scant 30 big-league games under his belt, he is going to spring training as the Tigers’ primary catcher.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” manager Ron Gardenhire shrugged.

The Tigers opted not to tender a contract to James McCann, who had been the starting catcher since 2015. He was arbitration-eligible, coming off a horrid offensive season and was due make around $3.5 million. They also feel that catching prospect Jake Rogers is knocking on the door and could make his big-league debut as early as this September.

The thought was the Tigers would get through the 2019 season by platooning Greiner and John Hicks. Not so, Gardenhire said.

“Greiner is going to be our starter,” Gardenhire said at the Winter Meetings in December. “We think he can handle it. He did some pretty good things last year. It’s his turn.”

Greiner, to his credit, seems to be keeping things in perspective.

“It’s a little extra motivation when you hear your manager say what he said,” Greiner said during TigerFest Saturday. “When he gives you a vote of confidence, it makes you want to work that much harder.

“But at the same time, nothing is going to be given to anybody. You still have to go out and earn it. You never want to put extra pressure on yourself. Just take it day by day. Just come to the park every day ready to work and see what happens from there.”

Greiner has tried to keep his offseason regimen the same. Though he did lose three weeks after injuring his wrist while playing his first game (his third at-bat) in the Dominican Winter League.

“Turns out there was an old bone chip in there that they took out,” he said. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise. I got it taken care of and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

He’s anxious to get to Lakeland and begin building relationships with the pitchers. That’s priority one. He’s incorporated hot yoga into his workouts to facilitate more flexibility in his knees and hips, which for a 6-6 catcher is paramount. He will be in Lakeland next week catching bullpens and taking his turn in the batting cage.

“It’s not like I just flipped a switch and decided I’m going to work hard now,” he said. “I’ve always prided myself on being a hard worker and preparing as I would for any season.”

Here’s what he can’t prepare for, though: Suddenly, by the nature of his position, being thrust into an on-field leadership role. A tough ask for a guy who’s been in the big leagues for less than half a season.

 “Yeah, that’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment,” Greiner said. “I don’t want to put any pressure on myself. I kind of just want to do what I’ve always done — show up, work hard and be a good teammate. The main thing I want to do is develop a good rapport with the pitching staff.

“If I am in fact the starting catcher, I am going to have to come out of my shell a little bit. I am more of a naturally reserved, quiet guy. But I think I can change a little bit and be more of a vocal leader and communicate with those guys.”

Those things though come with time. It’s not like Greiner can walk into camp next month and be something other than the friendly, easy-going, taciturn South Carolinian gentleman than he’s always been. It would be perceived as fake by his teammates.

His ability to lead will come in time, much as McCann’s did, from earned respect and acceptance.

“We’re going to miss our catcher (McCann, who signed with the White Sox),” Gardenhire said. “He was a leader. He was game-on every day. But this is what it is when you rebuild. You have some growing experiences.”

As a contingency, though, the Tigers signed a pair of veteran catchers to stash in Triple-A — Bobby Wilson and Hector Sanchez.

“We can lean on them if we have some issues,” Gardenhire said. “But Greiner will be fine.”

Twitter: @cmccosky