'Just the beginning': Riley Greene's goal is to command Comerica Park's center field

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – At times, Riley Greene looked like the 18-year-old kid that he is. Like when he was asked about taking batting practice at Comerica Park on Friday.

“So, taking BP is probably one of my favorite things to do, like ever,” he said. “Especially on a big-league field, on this field, my first time here. I am really looking forward to it.”

President and CEO of Ilitch Holdings and Chairman of the Detroit Tigers Chris Illitch (left) and Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila pose with first-round draft pick Riley Greene during his introductory press conference at Comerica Park Friday.

Or like when he was asked who he was most looking forward to meeting.

“Miguel Cabrera, duh,” he said.

But when the questions were more baseball-centric, he sounded like a mature-beyond-his-years prospect, which he is, as well.

He was jokingly asked if he was sure he wanted to play center field, after seeing the spacious outfield at Comerica Park.

“Yes,” he said, dead serious. “I would love to stay in center field. I’ve been working on improving my speed every day. Everyone is saying I need to get faster. I’m working on it. Hopefully I will be able to stay there.”

Greene just graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago. On Monday, he was drafted by the Tigers with the fifth overall pick. Less than 48 hours later, he signed a $6.1 million contract. On Friday, the 6-2, left-handed swinging outfielder from Oviedo, Fla., was introduced to the Detroit media.

They grow up quick.

“It’s all been very exciting,” Greene said. “The night of the draft was amazing. To be able to spend that night with my family and friends was amazing. I think when I got home at around 11:30, I just thought, ‘Dang, I’m a professional baseball player now.’

“It just really hit me. When I got that feeling, it was just really exciting.”

The Tigers were just as excited. Scout James Orr, the Tigers' east regional cross-checker, has been in on Greene since he was 15.

“I’ve never gotten to know a player as well as Riley, never been around a player as much as Riley,” Orr said. “It was definitely a unique experience. Truly, it was a blessing.”

RJ Burgess, the Tigers' area scout in north and central Florida, agreed.

“Having this kind of track record with a high school player like we have with Riley is exceptional,” he said. “We were inviting him to work out for us as an underclassman. This is a guy we’ve been involved with for a long time.”

Orr chuckled when he heard Greene’s answer to the center field question. The answer was a window into his competitiveness.

“This is what impressed me,” Orr said. “He heard people, critics, saying you need to get faster. You need to do this and do that. Well, he was already working out, but he started doing all this speed training, explosiveness drills, box jumps and things like that.”

Orr said Greene was stacking the boxes up to 62 inches. He’s run home to first in 4 seconds flat, but is typically 4.15, 4.0 seconds – and that’s taking into account he finishes his swing with both hands on the bat, so he loses a quarter step coming out of the box.

“He’s way more athletic than people realize,” he said. “I’ve got video of him dunking a basketball. And once the games started, we were getting better running times on him. It just showed the work he put in during the fall and winter and when he was playing for Team USA.

“He applied it and he improved.”

Greene will report for work Monday in Lakeland, where he is expected to join one of the Tigers’ Gulf Coast League teams. Scott Pleis, the Tigers' director of amateur scouting, said there are no restrictions on how much Greene will play this summer.

“He’s played a lot of ball in the summers,” Pleis said. “From showcases, the very best ones like Perfect Game and the Under Armour game at Wrigley Field. He’s played on the biggest stages he can. He played on Team USA that went to Panama (and won the Gold Medal).

“He’s gone to everything he could go to at the highest level. And that’s plus for him.”

Pleis, though, did offer a note of caution.

“The pro game is a lot different,” he said. “We’re putting a wood bat in his hand, for one, and that’s very difficult to do. It takes time. He needs time to mature. It doesn’t matter what player we’re talking about, this is just the beginning. This isn’t the end.

“They have to get better every year and you see guys in the big leagues now and they have to get better every year. This is just a start.”

To give you an idea of how special the Tigers think Greene can be, Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch was on hand for the press conference.

“We all know what he can do with the bat,” Ilitch said. “We are really looking forward to showcasing that at Comerica Park. He’s going to be a big part of our future success and I am excited to watch his development.

“We’re looking forward to the day when he gets up here.”

Twitter @cmccosky