'Franchise-type' outfielder Riley Greene gets the call from Tigers at No. 5
Detroit — The Tigers, so deep in young pitching prospects and frankly very little else, took the first step toward fixing that issue Monday in the Major League Baseball Draft.
With the No. 5 pick, the Tigers selected Florida high-school outfielder Riley Greene, who during his senior season batted .422 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs, 11 doubles, 37 runs scored and 13 stolen bases in 13 attempts.
Greene is the first high school position player taken by the Tigers since they drafted California prep outfielder Derek Hill with the 23rd overall pick in 2014.
Hill has had a significantly slow climb up the franchise's minor-league ladder, thanks to a combination of injuries and lack of production, so you can imagine why Greene's pick is seen as risky, even if he was the kid most draft experts had pegged for Detroit at No. 5.
"I mean, you never know what's going to happen in the baseball draft," Greene said over the phone Monday night. "But, yeah, (the Tigers) were around quite a bit.
"It's a great program, really good people over there. I'm just excited."
The Tigers went with another position player in the second round, taking University of Arizona third baseman Nick Quintana at No. 47 overall.
Greene said he learned the Tigers were taking him just seconds before it was announced on MLB Network.
But he was prepared, so much so he had a home Tigers cap ready to put on. He had a workout with the Tigers over the weekend in Lakeland, Fla.
Greene, 18, is a left-handed hitter who throws left-handed, and has played mostly left field during a stellar high school career. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder is out of Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Fla.
He chose to celebrate draft night at home in Florida, at a clubhouse party with some 200 in attendance — complete with dozens of students at his high school, and the town's rival high school — rather than attend the MLB Draft live show in Secaucus, N.J.
"He just wants to be around family and friends," said Matt Cleveland, Greene's high school coach the last three years. "He just loves the town, dude."
Said Greene: "I wanted to be home with my friends and family and spend the night with them, because it's something special. They've been here with me from Day 1."
Cleveland has been a head high school baseball coach in Florida for 17 years, and has seen tons of talent cross his path, including the likes of Tigers right fielder Nick Castellanos, and the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo and Padres' Eric Hosmer.
In terms of talent, Cleveland compares Greene to Hosmer.
In terms of personality and leadership, he compares him to the Angels' Mike Trout. Seriously.
"He's a franchise type, like Mike Trout," Cleveland said. "I'm not talking about his baseball skills, but just being a franchise person, a great-character kid.
"And then the hitting tools are just unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. He stands out above everybody.
"The kid's special, bro."
The Tigers, so pitching-oriented under GMs Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila, have used each of their past four first-round draft picks on pitchers, and 12 of their last 15. But this was a hitting-heavy draft class, and the Tigers are desperate for position prospects.
Greene, scouted by the Tigers' James Orr, first popped up on their radar years ago, and last fall, Greene became a popular target among scouts. Cleveland said during his first fall game in 2018, there were about 25 scouts in attendance; Greene homered on the second pitch of his first at-bat.
Then, during his first batting practice session of 2019, there were another 45 scouts checking out Greene.
The Tigers have a total draft pool of $10.4 million, with $6.2 million allocated for Greene, Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year and a University of Florida commit who is widely expected to head right to pro ball.
"He’s a dynamic outfielder with a large frame and loose swing from the left side, and really knows how to find the sweet spot in a repeatable way. He’s got what we call the ‘hit gene’ and matches his performance in the batter's box with highlight-reel plays in the outfield on a regular basis," said Scott Pleis, the Tigers' director of amateur scouting.
Said Avila: "We’re looking forward to Riley joining our growing group of young position players that are moving quickly in our system during their development towards the major leagues."
Greene led his high school team to a 24-5 record as a senior. In three years, he led the team to a state runner-up finish, a final-eight showing and, this year, a final-16 showing. Keep in mind this is mid-Florida, where the talent is exceptional.
But it's not all about baseball with Greene, who is wildly athletic, and would've played basketball had he not been such a sure-fire first-round MLB Draft pick. He can dunk, and, oh, he can play a mean game of Fortnite.
"He's a typical teenager," Cleveland. "Great character. Practices on Saturday, I'd get there at 9:45 for a 10 a.m. practice, and he's already there. He gets the field ready. He doesn't tell the freshmen or sophomores to do it. He's the first guy to pull the tarp, the first guy at practice, always with a smile on his face.
"He's just a great teammate, and he's always gonna be like that."
Cleveland said Greene has never been one to talk about the draft, or his potential future in the pros. In fact, Cleveland said he never discussed it much until recent weeks.
And, that makes some sense, given Greene said he never really even considered such a future until late in his junior year, when he started to get invited to national showcases.
It all really hit home Monday night, not long before 8 p.m.
With the fifth overall pick, Greene became a Tiger.
And the room, understandably, went crazy.
"A bunch of screaming, and a bunch of family was crying. Like, I've never seen my grandfather (Joe) cry before," Greene said. "Dang, that almost made me cry.
"It's just a great feeling."
The consensus scouting reports on Greene like his bat, and expect his power to come with age, but have questions about his defense long-term in the outfield.
Later Monday, the Tigers took Arizona's Quintana, 21, who is considered a plus defender at third (not to mention a plus guitar player and painter) and has a lot of power. He had 15 home runs and 77 RBIs this season for Arizona, which didn't qualify for the NCAA Tournament. In 56 games, Quintana hit .342 with a 1.088 OPS and 65 runs scored.
Quintana (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) is a junior out of Las Vegas.
Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, to nobody's surprise, went first overall to the Orioles. Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. went No. 2 to the Royals, actually besting his father, Bobby Witt Sr., who went No. 3 to the Rangers in 1985. At No. 3, the White Sox drafted Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, and at No. 4, the Marlins drafted Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday.
Get to know ...
RILEY GREENE, OF
Age: 18 (Sept. 28, 2000)
Hometown: Oviedo, Fla.
High school: Hagerty High School
College commitment: Florida
Senior stats: Batted .422 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs, 11 doubles, three triples, 37 runs and 13 stolen bases (out of 13 opportunities)
Get to know ...
NICK QUINTANA, 3B
Age: 21 (Oct. 13, 1997)
Hometown: Las Vegas
College: University of Arizona
Junior stats: In 56 games, he batted .342 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs, plus a 1.088 OPS and 65 runs scored.
►When: Monday (Rounds 1 and 2), 1 p.m. Tuesday (Rounds 3-10); noon Wednesday (Rounds 11-40)
►TV: MLB Network on Monday
►Stream: MLB.com all three days