Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects: No. 1 Riley Greene

LAKELAND, FL - Riley Greene looks on during a Spring Training game. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
LAKELAND, FL - Riley Greene looks on during a Spring Training game. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Welcome to the first installment of the Motor City Bengals Top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects. The MCB staff has compiled individual prospect lists and released our consensus rankings, along with a breakdown of each player, from number 20 Adinso Reyes, to number 2 Spencer Torkelson. Today we finish the countdown with our number 1 prospect, outfielder Riley Greene.

This prospect-ranking season made it clear the Detroit Tigers have five outstanding prospects. While most publications have Torkelson as the top prospect in the system, legitimate arguments can be made for all five players. Our process gave us Greene, a precocious talent who was perhaps the most impressive Tigers player in both Spring Training and Summer Camp last year.

Riley Greene Background

A native of Oviedo, Florida, Riley Greene learned to swing a bat from his father Alan, who played Division II college baseball at Florida Tech, and later started his own training facility.

By the time Riley Greene was a sophomore in high school it was clear he was one of the best hitting prospects for the 2019 draft. He did nothing to dispel that notion during an outstanding showcase circuit that included a stint with USA Baseball’s 18U National Team, where he hit .424 with 3 home runs in 9 games.

For all the praise of his bat, some scouts were a bit wary of Greene. They thought he looked big, and slow, and worried about him having to play left field or even first base. In fact, he did play all of his games with team USA at first base or as a DH.

Riley Greene heard the criticism and took it personally. He came back leaner and faster as a senior, and he played center field while continuing to hit at an elite level. The Tigers had scouted him closely for years, in part because their crosschecker James Orr was practically Greene’s neighbor.

Detroit selected Riley Greene 5th overall in the 2019 draft, and they signed him to a $6.2 million deal a day after the draft concluded. It didn’t take long for him to make a big splash in pro ball:

Greene didn’t hit any more home runs in the Gulf Coast League, but it took all of nine games for him to prove he was too advanced for the level, so the Tigers promoted him to the short-season New York-Penn League. He tripled in his first game with Connecticut, hit a monster blast a week later, and in a month he was promoted again.

He continued his flair for spectacular debuts, making an excellent diving catch and then hitting an inside-the-park homer in his first game with the West Michigan Whitecaps. Rogelio and I caught up with him about a week later:

Greene finished his 24-game stint in West Michigan with a .219/.278/.344 line, which doesn’t jump off the page, but is quite impressive for an 18-year-old getting his first taste of pro ball.

Top draft picks often get a look or two in their first Spring Training, just to get a taste of the high-level competition before they head back to minor-league camp. The problem with Riley Greene, who was noticeably bigger and stronger in 2020, is that he kept performing.

In seven Spring Training games Riley Greene went 5-for-12 with 2 home runs, and 6 walks to just 2 strikeouts. He genuinely looked like a seasoned MLB veteran, and it seemed possible Greene might jump right to High-A Lakeland.

Then baseball stopped for four months. Riley Greene didn’t miss a beat, though, making spectacular defensive plays all over the outfield in Summer Camp, and continuing to show impressive hitting skills.

Greene is likely ticketed for High-A West Michigan after 2021 Spring Training, but it’s entirely possible he continues to show out this year and begins the year in Double-A Erie as a 20-year-old.

Riley Greene Strengths

Riley Greene’s bat is special. He has a beautiful, well-balanced stroke that features natural loft, and he has shown the ability to barrel balls all over the zone. He has plus bat speed and when he swings he tries to do damage, but he also shows a good eye, strong plate discipline, and the ability to adjust to the way pitchers approach him. There’s at least plus raw power in his bat, with the juice to clear fences in all parts of the park.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Riley Greene’s game is how well-rounded it is. He doesn’t have another plus tool, but he’s an above-average runner now who should stay at least average for several years, and he has proven to be a far better defender than expected. Greene shows outstanding instincts both in the field and on the base paths, and his arm is strong enough to work in right field.

Riley Greene Weaknesses

It’s hard to find any glaring weaknesses in Riley Greene’s game right now, though part of that is his lack of game reps. That limited experience is probably the biggest concern with Greene — he looks the part of a plus hitter, but he’ll need to continue proving that against pro pitching.

The rest of the complaints about Greene amount to nitpicking at this point. He’s capable of playing center field now, but he figures to fit much better in a corner, which puts more pressure on his bat. He looks great on defense, but sometimes outfielders who make spectacular plays are forced to do so because of a slow first step or a lack of range. His arm is fine, but it isn’t a cannon, and his speed isn’t likely to be a real weapon for him.

Our Take on Riley Greene

It’s hard not to be excited about the Detroit Tigers’ top two position prospects. Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson look like they could be prototypical 3-4 hitters for years to come. We gave Greene the slight edge because we think he offers just as much offensive upside as Torkelson, with a better chance to also provide value on defense.

In Greene we envision a player who may threaten to put up a .300/.400/.500 line on an annual basis while playing at least average defense in a outfield corner, and maybe even stealing double-digit bases. There’s certainly All-Star upside here, and if everything clicks, Riley Greene might contend for a few MVP awards in his prime.