Conner Greene realized the only way for his career to start moving forward was to pitch his way to another level. Now that he's in the Appalachian League with the Bluefield Blue Jays, he senses there's some traction to the work he's put in.
"Maybe it was to test my will," said Greene, a 19-year-old right-hander, "to see what I can handle."
A seventh-round pick out of high school in 2013, Greene spent his first one-plus pro seasons in the Gulf Coast League. Others had moved on, but he remained at the Toronto organization's Florida headquarters when teams were divvied up after the latest Draft a couple of months ago.
"I don't know why I was in the Gulf Coast. I worked hard to get out," Greene said. "It was a disappointment, but it was also motivating at the same time. … My buddies were moving up. I was thinking I was ready to go to the Appy League."
Since he arrived at this next stop in late July, he's taking advantage of it.
Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said the path for Greene has been reasonable.
"That's not an uncommon stepping stone for a high school [Draft] guy," Holmberg said, though he noted some quirks. "I think he's a left-hander trapped in a right-hander's body."
Of his first four outings with Bluefield, only one came at home -- and that was on a rainy night in southern West Virginia. Greene said he didn't let that bother him in a five-inning stint in which he allowed only one hit and one run while striking out eight Danville Braves, the league's top offensive team.
"He uses his pitches," Holmberg said. "He changes speeds."
Green following that impressive outing with another solid effort Aug. 12 in Burlington, yielding one run on four hits over six innings without walking a batter, though he did suffer the loss.
Before he was drafted out of Santa Monica, Calif., Greene didn't have to develop multiple alternate pitches to be effective. Since turning pro, that process has been in full swing.
With a fastball that tops out at 96 mph but routinely is clocked from 90-95 mph, he worked on a changeup. He's become comfortable with that and considers it among his accomplishments of the past several months, which included a 1.99 ERA across seven games in his second stint with the GCL Blue Jays.
Greene also uses a different grip when tossing a curveball. He used to break it off at the index finger, but he said he has learned better technique.
Now that he holds a spot in Bluefield's rotation, his confidence has been restored as well.
"This year, I've started to become a real pitcher," Greene said. "Now, I have an approach. … The whole year I felt like I've dominated. I met my expectations."
Now top that: Atlanta first-round Draft pick Braxton Davidson had quite a debut with the Danville Braves upon his arrival from the Gulf Coast League. He went 2-for-2 with two doubles and two RBIs, one coming on a bases-loaded walk, in a seven-inning romp past Burlington in his first Appalachian League game. He arrived a few hours before he was in the lineup. "I told them I'd be ready. It was a busy day, a long day," the 18-year-old outfielder said. "I felt good at the plate. This is 10 times better [than the GCL]. It's not 98 degrees."
Worth the flight: Burlington Royals right-hander Niklas Stephenson hasn't given up more than one earned run in his last five outings, including three with no earned runs. His latest gem cut his ERA to 2.13 (second-best in the league) and came when he took a shutout into the eighth versus Bluefield, with his father having arrived to watch after taking a red-eye from San Diego. "I'm glad he did," the younger Stephenson said. "Everything felt really good out of the hand."
Any way possible: The Johnson City Cardinals scored nine unearned runs in a 12-8 victory against the Bristol Pirates, picking up only four RBIs in the process. Cardinals infielder Casey Grayson, second in the league with 38 RBIs, came to the plate twice with the bases loaded. Once he popped out, and the other time a wild pitch produced a run and two others scored when Grayson's grounder turned into a two-out throwing error.
Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com.