Focusing on pitching, Reds' Greene is ready

Former two-way prep star keeping bat tuned for first full season

Hunter Greene was limited to four innings over three starts in his debut season. (Dean Hendrickson/Billings Mustangs)

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com | March 19, 2018 9:27 PM

GOODYEAR, Arizona -- Strip away his prowess on the mound and Hunter Greene would've still been talented enough to go in the first round of last year's Draft as a slugging shortstop with a cannon arm. Take away what he's able to do in the field and at the plate, and the California prep product would've been a first-round selection as a flame-throwing pitcher. Put them together and the total package is something different -- though one side, for now, will take precedent.

After being taken with the second overall pick last June, Cincinnati's No. 2 prospect is enjoying his first Spring Training this year. The pre-Draft hype and immediate post-Draft whirlwind are behind him. Now it's down to business for the former two-way star high-school pitcher who doubled as a defensive linchpin and power threat.

"It kind of was like a dream at first, like, 'Wow this stuff came fast,'" Greene said. "Now that it's slowed down and I know what my job is, what I need to do every day, I understand my expectations for myself and for other people in the club. It's more of a job. It has slowed down, and now it's time to go to work and get ready for the season."

Baseball's No. 21 overall prospect and his Reds teammates took the field Monday under cloudless skies on a day with an expected high in the mid-70s. It was picturesque, and the 18-year-old was still soaking it all in, a few weeks into camp.

"It's special," Greene said. "Being out here and being blessed to come out every day, the weather, it's nice outside, I've got the right guys around me. It's just great to have great teammates around, guys who know what they're doing, professionals, guys who care about the game and love to play it. We all just bring a passion for the game out here for the Reds.

"It's going well. It's fun and it's a great experience for sure."

Last April, Sports Illustrated dubbed Greene "the star baseball needs" -- four months ahead of his 18th birthday. The shortstop/pitcher headlined a talented team at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, touching triple-digits from the mound and anchoring his team's defense and lineup when not pitching. In June, the Reds nabbed Greene and sent him away from the bright lights of the Los Angeles area to Rookie-level Billings where he made his professional debut as a designated hitter on Aug. 8, two days after he turned 18.

"L.A., the lifestyle is different compared to Montana and a lot of the cities I'm going to go to in the Minor Leagues," he said. "When I first got there, it was a little different, but Billings is awesome because of the fans. We had a great fan base. It was sold out every game, and the stadium was beautiful, nice, well kept. Everybody was great."

The majority of Greene's work was outside the lines in his first pro season. He served as Billings' designated hitter seven times from Aug. 8-23. Then he took the mound for the first of three starts on Aug. 27. Not much can be gleaned from numbers so limited by sample size, but the Reds saw enough to go forward with their plan of developing Greene as a potential future big league ace.

"It's mainly focusing on pitching right now but taking it day by day," he said. "I'm focusing on what I need to do on the mound and helping the team and helping the club out as much as I can on the field for these [Minor League spring] games that we play."

Offseason MiLB include

When asked about his focus in camp, Greene didn't hesitate.

"Definitely my secondary pitches," he said. "I'm comfortable with all my pitches. I felt great the last outing I had. It's just continuing to attack the zone, being able to pitch in on guys, move the ball left-right, up and down. I'm just focusing on my pitch and location and the philosophy of my pitches."

MLB Pipeline grades Greene's fastball with the top mark on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and gives him Major League average to above-average marks on his changeup and slider, both of which have come along well this offseason, according to Reds player senior director of player development Jeff Graupe. While the focus is on the mound right now, Graupe didn't rule out Greene's bat seeing time in a Minor League lineup.

"I don't want to commit to it just because I want to see how his body reacts to a new workload," he said. "Any time you get a guy going to, whether it's a 140-game league or one of the short seasons, you've gone through Spring Training, and your calendar is just different than its ever been. I want to see how he reacts to some fatigue before we say whether that'll be drill work, BP, games, try to lock that in."

Whether he sees the field or the batter's box this year, Greene is ready to go on the mound, likely with Class A Dayton to start the season.

"Being able to get my innings in, I think that's the biggest thing the front office is focusing on, making sure that I'm healthy but getting my innings in to get ready and continue to move on," he said. "To get to the big leagues is the end game because I've never thrown this much more than I did in high school. I have goals for myself. I'd love to be Pitcher of the Year, winning a championship with the Dayton team or whoever I'm sent to and just being healthy and being with good teammates."

Still, he's staying ready for other duties just in case.

"I don't know what the future holds," Greene said. "I'd like to stay athletic and see what happens. As of now, I'm focusing on pitching, but if anything comes up, I'll be ready to go, I'm sure."

Baseball has seen a small but intriguing influx of two-way players over the past year. From former Nippon Professional Baseball star Shohei Ohtani's signing sweepstakes that landed him in Anaheim to former Louisville star Brendan McKay's plan to pitch and play first base in Tampa Bay's system, a trend could be forming.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Graupe said. "I think with specialization in amateur baseball and more and more athletes focusing on one sport -- whether it's baseball, football, basketball, anything -- I think the premier athletes are going to look to do more, whether it's multi-position, whether it's pitch-and-hit. I think they're looking for an outlet to perform. For us, I think it's adjusting. This year we hired (former slugging Major League pitcher) Micah Owings, who is a former player here. A lot of that is [to] have someone who's available and can touch every single type of player who walks in and be able to develop him the best way that we can."

Greene pointed out his track is even more challenging than the others often categorized alongside him in that group.

"It's a little different with Ohtani and McKay and those guys because they play first base," he said. "It's not as athletic or challenging as shortstop. They're able to do it and can get away with it more than I can just because it's less throwing and moving around. But yeah, it's new. Guys are coming in more athletic, but I'd say it's different. I wouldn't compare me to those guys. New guys are coming in, and I don't know what the next Draft class is going to look like, but it's interesting."

Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More