Off the bat, it looked like a pop fly down the third base line.
C.J. Cron hardly swung the bat. He was so badly fooled by Gregory Soto’s pitch that he appeared to throw the bat in defense, trying to foul it off.
"I thought there was no chance he was going to hit that ball,” Riley Greene said. “But somehow, he got to it and he hit it really high.”
Greene, watching from left field, soon went with the ball to the fence.
“I was like, ‘It’s got a chance to go,’” he said.
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At this point, the 19-year-old outfielder had already stood out in summer camp at the plate. He has big bat speed, a sweet swing path and looked every bit the part as one of the Tigers’ top prospects. In his previous at-bat Monday, he smacked a two-run, line-drive single up the middle.
But when he came down with Cron’s fly, perfectly timing his jump along the left field fence while reaching back with his right arm to grab it, Greene officially put himself on the map with the best catch in intrasquad baseball this season.
“It was hit high enough that I was able to get to the fence,” he said. “I I just jumped, reached over and I was hoping I was there, which, yeah, it was pretty cool."
Was it his best catch ever?
“Probably,” he said. “It’s definitely up there.”
Was it better than teammate Derek Hill’s circus catch with his bare hand in center field from last week?
“No,” Greene said. “I can’t say that. Derek Hill is a great outfielder.”
Though Hill’s catch was the highlight of camp, Greene’s grab takes the top spot. That it came in left field only added to the allure of the Tigers’ first-round pick from the 2019 draft.
Last season, Greene had his share of highlight catches as he climbed the minor league ladder quickly in a short season, especially at Class A West Michigan. But these plays are different; they come at Comerica Park, where Greene will eventually make his mark, with Tigers general manager Al Avila watching from the stands. The catch went viral.
“Riley does something every day, doesn’t he, just to shake your head?” manager Ron Gardenhire was asked.
“I’ll agree with that statement, yes,” he said. “That was pretty impressive. That was a pretty fun catch; we’ve had Hill in center now and (Greene) in left out there on that one, we’re trying to decide which one was the best catch, that’s what we were talking about there on the dugout.”
So Gardenhire asked Hill himself.
“I think he got me on that one,” Hill said.
“So I’ll go with what he said," Gardenhire said.
On the towering fly ball, which would have landed mere feet beyond the fence, Greene reached far back with his right hand to bring it back.
“He was way over the wall,” Gardenhire said. “Pretty athletic.”
It was Greene’s second appearance in left field during intrasquad games. He has made two starts and come off the bench late in games to pinch-hit and get more innings in the outfield.
Though the Tigers feel Greene is athletic enough to play center field, with Hill patrolling, he has played on the corners.
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“We’ll talk in the outfield while we’re on the same team,” he said. “He’ll move me around in the outfield and that, to me, I’m learning from that, because the swings he’s seen, I’m seeing, and through what he thinks I should do, so I’ve learned a lot.”
Though center field innings are tight in the condensed intrasquad schedule, Greene will likely play there when the Tigers’ taxi squad breaks off for Triple-A Toledo. Either way, experience at the corners will help Greene play center field better as well, in terms of instincts and positioning, should he fit there in the future.
His highlight grab overshadowed a hard hit up the middle against right-hander Franklin Perez, scoring two runs. Because of his swing plane, Greene seems to put a certain kind of spin on the ball, as his fly balls carry and his line drives tail sharply toward right field.
Greene is physical but still so young, years away from hitting his peak maturity. But he has certainly filled out since he first took batting practice at Comerica Park last June after signing as the No. 5 pick in the 2019 MLB draft.
And yet, Greene won’t be up this season.
“It’s not really that tough of a decision,” Gardenhire said. “I know what we brought in here with all of our top prospects and yes, we want to see them doing what they’re doing, they’re having a lot of fun, but we also know they need to develop.
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“We’ll just keep letting them have fun and we get to dream a little bit.”
As the Tigers have seen this summer with Greene, it’s not hard.