Lakeland, Fla. — Riley Greene, who was paid a $6.18 million signing bonus after the Tigers selected him fifth overall in 2019 draft, has an endearing frugality about him.
His home in Oviedo, Fla., is about 75 miles northeast of Lakeland, but he’s staying in the dorms this spring, he said, to save money. In the next breath, he said he bought a boat this winter and spent a lot of his downtime salt-water fishing off the Atlantic coast.
“For about a month or so after the season, I just took it off and hung out with my friends,” said the 19-year-old Greene, who jumped three rungs in the Tigers’ system last season in his first year of pro ball. “I hadn’t seen them in a while. Did a lot of fishing. But once November-December came around I started hitting and working out.
“I took it pretty seriously.”
It shows. He said he weighs 209 pounds, which is 19 more than he weighed when the Tigers drafted him last June.
“I learned that the minor leagues is a grind,” said Greene, who ended up playing 57 games between rookie league, short-season Connecticut and Low-A West Michigan. “You have to learn to take it day by day and be able to be confident every day. Just have fun with it, pretty much.
“My legs were hurting there at the end but I just had to keep on going.”
Greene, who has been in Lakeland taking part in the minor-league mini-camp this past week, ended up hitting just .219 in 24 games at West Michigan, after he hit .295 at Connecticut and .351 in the Gulf Coast League.
That was a lot of baseball for an 18-year-old just weeks removed from his high school graduation.
“It was a little different,” he said of his climb. “But it wasn’t too much. The first pitcher I faced (with West Michigan) was throwing like 100 mph. So, OK, whatever. But the fans were great. There were like 7,000 people there when I made my debut. They were awesome, all cheering and into it.
“But, on a new team, I was a young kid in that locker room.”
But he’s made some fast friends. He and another speedy outfield prospect, Parker Meadows (second-round pick in 2018), have formed a strong friendship.
“Riley is great,” said Meadows, the brother of Tampa Bay All-Star Austin Meadows. “He’s humble. He picks you up when you are down. He’s just a great overall teammate. He’s an amazing outfielder, he really is. He’s going to be a Gold Glover one day.”
Greene begrudgingly admitted that Meadows was actually faster than him, which is saying something.
“With me and Parker out there, I feel like nothing is going to drop,” Greene said.
That is something for the fans in West Michigan to look forward to again, at least at the start of this season. But the bigger takeaway for the Tigers is how well Greene is assimilating into the system. Think about what Greene has accomplished in the last two years.
In 2018 he helped Team USA win gold in the 18-under Pan-American Championships, hitting .424 and slugging .848. He also that year went 2-for-3 in the Under Armor All-American game at Wrigley Field and hit a home run off Diamondbacks first-round pick Brennan Malone. And two weeks later he whacked an RBI double in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at PetCo Park in San Diego.
And then after his high school season, he gets $6.18 million as the fifth overall pick and he's hitting bombs into the Pepsi Porch at Comerica Park with Miguel Cabrera oohing-and-awing.
You see how transitioning to a minor-league lifestyle might've been problematic. Though it has been anything but for Greene, who seems happy and content to be just another one of the guys grinding away on the backfields.
“I made a lot of friends here,” he said. “They’ve made it comfortable for me.”
He looked pretty comfortable Sunday, making his Grapefruit League debut in Bradenton against the Pirates. Greene was among a large group of players invited from minor-league camp.
He walked twice, scored twice, hit a home run and made a spectacular catch.
As for where he might end up by the end of this season, Greene isn’t much concerned about it.
“I’m just going to play as hard as I can and the people who move us up can do what they do,” he said. “I’m just going to try my hardest to help whatever team I am on win games.”