Is Riley Greene a slam dunk? Of course not, but Tigers over the moon to get him

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers first-round pick Riley Greene says he has to work on his speed, though he was 13-for-13 on stolen bases in his senior year at Ovieda (Fla.) Hagerty High.

Detroit — Talk to any number of folks about Riley Greene, and you hear much of the same thing: He's a heck of a baseball player, to be sure. He's already gone yard at Chicago's Wrigley Field, and doubled at San Diego's Petco Park.

But he's a well-rounded kid, too, and one who enjoys lots of different kid things.

For instance, he fancies himself a bit of a fisherman. Well, OK, not exactly an expert, but he once caught a bass that was 12 to 13 pounds — and we told him we'd embellish for the readers, so it was 22 to 23 pounds.

He tubes. He swims. He plays Fortnite. He dunks a basketball.

Wait. Check that. He used to dunk a basketball.

Those days ended Monday night.

"Yeah, I don't think I'll able to do that anymore," Greene said over the phone early Tuesday morning, with a hint of a chuckle.

"I'm kind of done with dunking and playing basketball."

That's music to the Tigers' ears, of course, given they used their fifth overall draft pick to take the left-handed-hitting center fielder out of Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Fla. They're prepared to make him a millionaire many times over — the pick's slot value is $6.2 million — to skip his college commitment to the University of Florida and get heading to TigerTown to begin his professional career.

Most mock drafts had the Tigers taking Greene, and if it wasn't evident before he was drafted, it was quite evident the moment he was drafted. It took mere moments for Detroit to issue a press release, complete with quotes about their love of Greene.

He's been on the Tigers' radar for more than three years, when James Orr, the scout in the area, got a call from good friend Kevin O'Sullivan, Florida's head coach.

"Riley had just verbally committed to him just going into his freshman year," said Orr, who lives in Oviedo, a suburb of Orlando.

"That was the the very first time I ever heard about Riley."

And so began a years-long game of shadow; wherever Greene went, so did someone from the Tigers. To this showcase, to that showcase, to Lakeland, to Jupiter, to his tenure with Team USA, to his days with the Florida Diamond Club.

If there were 25 major-league scouts in attendance, as there were for his first at-bat of fall ball last year, when he homered on the second pitch, the Tigers were among them. If there were 40 scouts in attendance, as there were for Greene's first batting-practice session this spring, the Tigers were among them.

"He had a great track record of hitting in every event," Orr said. "We saw Riley as much, if not more, than any high-school hitter in the country."

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And by the time their pick rolled around Monday night, the Tigers were beyond sold.

That's saying something, given every pick in the MLB Draft is a risk — if you were to rank the four major drafts in terms of players panning out, it'd go, in some order, football, basketball and hockey, and then baseball miles in the rear — high-school players carry more of a who-the-heck-knows stigma.

That's because most high-school players will require three or typically more years in the minor leagues before they're ready, both physically and mentally, for The Show. And truth be told, most are never ready.

The Tigers, to be sure, know this all too well. Greene, after all, is the first prep outfielder taken by the Tigers in the first round since Derek Hill in 2014. Hill was hyped back then, but hasn't hit a lick, and just this season is playing above A-ball for the first time.

"There's always a risk in any of these players when you're looking in the future and what they could do," said Scott Pleis, the Tigers' director of amateur scouting. "But no more than any other player.

"Riley's got tremendous tools and the potential to be a really, really good major-league player. That's the way we looked at it."

Greene can hit, we know that much for sure. As a senior in high school, he batted .422 with 27 RBIs, 11 doubles and three triples.

He also had eight homers, though the power is not considered a strong suit at this point. It usually isn't with high school players, whose bodies haven't fully evolved. Tigers brass and Greene expect that part of his game to develop with time.

Greene swings from the left side, like one major league player he idolizes, Milwaukee's Christian Yelich, the reigning National League MVP. Greene's swing, though, frankly looks more like Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson's.

"I saw him play for the first time when he was going into his freshman year. He was on a travel team and I was coaching at another high school in the area," said Matt Cleveland, Greene's high school coach the last three years. "The kid pitching against him was really advanced for his game, and Riley had four doubles off him.

"I was like, 'Who's this kid?'"

It's the defensive part of his game that will need the most work, according to most scouting reports. Greene adds that he has to work on his speed; while he was 13-for-13 in stolen bases as a senior, he knows he has to get faster — especially if he wants to stay in his preferred position, center field.

More: Meet 3B Nick Quintana and all the Tigers' 2019 MLB Draft picks

The Tigers say they are more than willing to give him his shot at center field. Time is on their side, after all, given the franchise is knee-deep in rebuild mode, and there'll be no rush on Greene before they decide whether he might be better off in a corner spot.

Greene, for his part, had a hunch the Tigers would be his future employer. He even had a Tigers cap at the ready Monday night, along with a couple other hats he wouldn't ID.

Not that it matters anymore.

"I'm very excited to play for the Tigers," Greene, 18, Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year, said following a Monday night party that drew 200 of his closest friends and family, including many kids from the town's rival high school. "I'm gonna go in and give my all and try to win games for them.

"That's what I love to do."

Well, that and dunking.

But, yeah, that's off the table for at least the 20 next years or so — if the Tigers actually picked the closest thing to a slam dunk, like they think they did.

Get to know ...


Age: 18 (Sept. 28, 2000)

Bats/throw: Left/left

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)

MLB Draft

When: 1 p.m. Tuesday (Rounds 3-10); noon Wednesday (Rounds 11-40)

Stream: all days

Twitter: @tonypaul1984