The Tigers are promoting top prospect Riley Greene, according to various reporters (including Chris McCosky of the Detroit News). Outfielder Austin Meadows is going on the COVID-19 injured list in a corresponding move.
Had it not been for a fractured right foot suffered in the last few days of Spring Training, Greene was on track to make his Major League debut back on Opening Day. Instead, the 21-year-old has to work through injury rehab and then 17 minor league games (15 at Triple-A, two in A-ball on a rehab assignment) before officially being deemed ready for his first taste of the Show.
Detroit selected Greene with the fifth overall pick of the 2019 draft, and he has since been a fixture on top-prospect rankings, including a consensus top-six placement heading into the 2022 campaign. The Athletic’s Keith Law considered Greene as the third-best prospect in baseball, with Baseball America (4th), MLB Pipeline (5th), and Baseball Prospectus (6th) not far behind.
Greene only had an okay start to his pro career in 2019 at age 18, and then naturally didn’t play at all in 2020 due to the canceled minor league season. Returning to the field last year, Greene hit .301/.387/.534 with 24 home runs and 16 steals over 558 plate appearances at the Double-A (373 PA) and Triple-A (185) levels.
There is plenty of five-tool potential for Greene, who was already regarded as having “elite bat speed” (as per Baseball America’s scouting report) even before he started to display more power at the plate in 2021. According to BA, Greene’s “physical gifts and advanced feel at the plate make him a potential plus-plus hitter who contends for batting titles and he has a chance to grow into 20-plus home run power.” Greene adds to that offensive potential by being a stolen-base threat thanks to his plus speed, and that same speed has also helped him become a solid defensive center fielder. He could ultimately be best suited to a corner outfield position, and Greene also has a strong throwing arm that would help him in right field.
As if there wasn’t enough pressure on a 21-year-old making his MLB debut, Greene also finds himself cast as perhaps a turning point (or savior) of what has been a disastrous season for the Tigers. After years of rebuilding, the Tigers looked to be turning the corner with young talent on the way up, and they augmented that core of prospects with veteran additions like Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Meadows during the offseason.
Instead, Detroit has only a 24-39 record, as the club has been hampered injuries to almost every member of the rotation and a near-total lack of hitting. Tarik Skubal, Beau Brieske, and Alex Faedo have helped keep the rotation afloat, but the Tigers are batting a collective .220/.275/.315. Harold Castro’s modest 114 wRC+ leads all Detroit batters who have received regular or semi-regular playing time.
Against this backdrop, it is probably already too late for Greene to spark any sort of miracle turn-around. Instead, the outfielder will try to hit the ground running and make a good showing for himself in his rookie season, in order to give the Tigers something to look forward to as they reshuffle the deck for 2023. While Spencer Torkelson has struggled in his first MLB campaign, the Tigers’ long-term plan is to have Greene and Torkelson as lineup mainstays for years to come.
Meadows has hit .250/.347/.328 over 147 PA this season, and is still looking for his first homer of 2022 after mashing 27 balls out of the park with the Rays last year. Meadows also spent close to four weeks battling vertigo-related symptoms, and was only activated off the regular injured list on June 7.