Tigers call up Riley Greene; top prospect will debut Saturday

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s time.

The ongoing debate within the Tigers’ organization over when to call up No. 1 prospect Riley Greene ended up being settled by yet another bad break for outfielder Austin Meadows.

Meadows, who missed nearly a month battling vertigo, tested positive for COVID Friday. That ended the debate. Riley Greene has been summoned from Triple-A Toledo and will make his big-league debut against the Texas Rangers on Saturday.

“We’re certainly excited to have him debut at home,” manager AJ Hinch said. “It was just a matter of days before he was going to be called up. It just happened to line up, but unfortunately, we lose Austin in the process.”

Hinch and general manager Al Avila were thinking of calling him up this weekend or during the upcoming road trip.

Tigers prospect Riley Greene is expected to bat sixth or seventh when he makes his major-league debut on Saturday against the Texas Rangers.

“We were being patient, giving him 50, 60, 70, 80 at-bats until we made the call,” Hinch said. “The conversations were ongoing. But the roster need was unique and he was called up on the other side of it.

“Being at home is a great reward for our fans.”

Greene, 21, is the No. 2-ranked prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. He was on track to be the Tigers’ Opening Day center fielder when he broke a bone in his right foot fouling off an upper-90s fastball from Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole in the last week of spring training.

He didn’t return to game action until May 27, and it’s been a slow but steady ramp-up for him. In 17 games and 75 plate appearances, his slash-line is .274/.338/.387 with a .725 OPS, one home run and four doubles.

Relatively pedestrian numbers for him.

“He’s been fine,” Hinch said. “The wish and hope is always that guys are dominating and tearing up their league, and it makes it obvious that this is their time to come up. But I think he’s competing fine. He’s swinging the bat very well, he’s commanding the strike zone, he’s running the bases and stealing bases.

“There are things as a player that he still needs to learn and grow, but there’s also freedom in what he’s doing. He’s more than equipped to handle the responsibilities here.”

Hinch said the plan was for Greene to start in center field Saturday and bat either sixth or seventh against Rangers lefty starter Taylor Hearn.

“He will have more energy tomorrow than he’s ever had in his life,” Hinch said.

Hinch did caution about expecting too much from Greene right out of the gate, especially given the struggles of top prospects throughout the league this season, including the Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson.

“Guys have a lot of challenges when they first get called up and we’re seeing it first-hand from a lot of exceptional players,” Hinch said. “I wish for all of us we could fast forward two, three, four years from now and look back at these guys and laugh about how much they’ve struggled. It’s across the league, not just our guys.

“But the ability of these kids to adjust to this level will be seen over time. Not everybody is perfect from the very beginning.”

And nobody, Hinch said, should be expecting Greene to be the savior and immediately remedy the offensive woes the Tigers have dealt with all season.  

“The weight of the world is not on his shoulders,” Hinch said. “The success of our offense does not rely on him solely. There are lots of guys who need to pick up the slack. If we expect him to be the sole reason for the offense turning the corner, we’re being totally unfair to Riley.”

What is expected and counted on, though, is for Greene to bring a spark of energy.

“Everyone has been anticipating his arrival,” Hinch said. “I’ve never seen a club more impacted by a young player’s injury like they were when he went down. It was a gut punch to the entire team. And that speaks to the credibility Riley has gained in our clubhouse.

“He’s going to handle all of this just fine.”

Greene gave the entire organization a scare Thursday night when he fouled another ball off his right leg. This time it was his shin. Hinch still made a call to Mud Hens acting manager Adam Melhuse to check on him.

“I wanted to see how he was moving around before we called him up,” Hinch said. “We were talking about the shin and Melly said Riley told him, ‘The only way I’m going to hit my shin again is with a crappy swing.’ That approach is a good head start toward dealing with the competition at this level.

“Nothing is going to faze him.”