Detroit Tigers Top 20 prospects for 2022: No. 1 Riley Greene

Erie SeaWolves leadoff batter Riley Greene hit this ball for a first-inning home run.
Erie SeaWolves leadoff batter Riley Greene hit this ball for a first-inning home run. /

Our list of the top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects concludes with a look at one of the best prospects in all of baseball, Riley Greene.

For the past month we’ve been offering detailed looks at players in our top 20 prospects. We recently moved into the top five, with pieces on Ty Madden, Jackson Jobe, Dillon Dingler, and Spencer Torkelson, but today we focus on the top prospect in the system.

Riley Greene Background

Riley Greene was identified as a potentially elite baseball player fairly early in high school. He 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, and Riley was a fixture at national tournaments and showcases.

Greene hit .424 with 3 home runs in 9 games for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team, but he played exclusively first base and DH. Some scouts thought he looked bulky and slow, and they worried about him sliding down the defensive spectrum in pro ball.

The Detroit Tigers never really came off of Greene, though, in part because their East Coast Regional Crosschecker James Orr was practically Greene’s neighbor. And for his part, Greene transformed his body as a senior, making himself leaner and fast enough to handle center field while still hitting at an elite level.

The Tigers nabbed him with 5th overall pick in the 2019 draft, and Greene signed a $6.2 million deal the day after the draft concluded. In his first professional game Riley Greene went 4-for-5 with two home runs and a double, and he hasn’t really cooled down since.

He was quickly promoted to the now-defunct New York-Penn League, where he performed well on both sides of the ball, and after 24 games the Tigers challenged him with a promotion to Low-A West Michigan.

Greene made another spectacular debut, with an excellent diving catch and then an inside-the-park homer in his first game with the West Michigan Whitecaps. He finished his 24-game stint in West Michigan with a .219/.278/.344 line, but simply getting to that level as quickly as he did suggested great things for his future.

Riley Greene seemed unfazed by spring training in 2020, going 5-for-12 with two home runs and six walks to just two strikeouts in seven games. But then organized baseball paused for four months, and the minor-league season was canceled.

MLB teams held a second spring training that summer, and Greene once again displayed precocious ability. He seemed to make highlight catches every other game, and his bat continued to shine.

After another solid spring training, the Tigers decided to challenge Greene again, sending him directly to Double-A Erie to begin the season. He had played just 57 pro games at that point, but he quickly proved to be one of the most dangerous hitters in Double-A, posting an OPS of .849 in May, and an .861 OPS in June. He also continued to make spectacular defensive plays in the outfield, and through July he had also gone 12-for-13 on stolen base attempts.

Then Riley Greene got better. He was promoted to Triple-A Toledo in mid-August, and over his final 53 games (13 in Erie, 40 in Toledo) he posted a .332/.411/.622 slash line. As a 20-year-old.

The minors are not the majors, of course, but numbers like that don’t happen by accident. Just ten players managed a similar stretch of success in the big leagues last year, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, and Fernando Tatis Jr.

Riley Greene Strengths

Riley Greene is an outstanding pure hitter. He swings with controlled aggression, and he proved adept at making hard contact against all kinds of pitchers, and all kinds of pitches. Greene battered right-handed pitching to the tune of a .275/.355/.519 line last year, while posting an absurd .368/.466/.574 slash line against southpaws.

Greene has as much raw power as anyone in the system, and he has already set the mark for the hardest hit ball by a Detroit Tigers player in the Statcast era. He’s an average runner, and though he doesn’t have the most range in the outfield, his terrific baseball instincts allow him to swipe bases and make highlight-reel defensive plays.

Riley Greene Weaknesses

If there’s any concern about Riley Greene at the plate it’s his strikeout rate, which hovered around 27% all year. There are times when it appears he is guessing and will take a pitch right down the middle, while other times he’ll get himself into trouble by swinging for the fences when he’s ahead in the count. And even with Greene’s plus instincts and track record of making spectacular defensive plays, it seems highly unlikely he sticks in center field for very long at the MLB level. His arm is accurate, but it’s not terribly strong, so he may ultimately settle into left field in his prime.

Our Take on Riley Greene

Riley Greene is one of the best Detroit Tigers prospects in decades. Major League Baseball is incredibly hard, and players like Greene have failed before, but we would be shocked if he doesn’t develop into at least an average everyday player. And his ceiling is substantially higher than that.

He may contend for batting titles, home run crowns, and MVPs in his prime. But even if he doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights, he has a strong chance to become the first homegrown position player to make multiple All-Star games for the Tigers since Travis Fryman.

Next. Projecting the West Michigan Whitecaps pitching rotation. dark