After the opening night of the Major League Baseball Draft on Monday, Cincinnati Reds General Manager Dick Williams said he worried that his team wasn’t picking high enough to select the player they really wanted.
The Reds owned the No. 2 overall pick.
Not to worry. They got their man. Well, at age 17, he’s not quite a man yet, but he is a phenom, he being the one and only Hunter Greene, the highly-touted flamethrower of a right-handed pitcher/Alex Rodriguez-like shortstop out of southern California who is already a Sports Illustrated cover boy.
“The Star Baseball Needs,” read the SI headline.
Greene is certainly what the Reds need, both for a franchise that suffered back-to-back seasons of 90-plus losses and one lacking a compelling reason for the casual fan to pay attention, at least until the club is a contender again.
Greene brings plenty of star power. He’s the first high school baseball player to grace the SI cover since Bryce Harper. In the words of Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty, “Greene seems 17 going on 40.” His high school OPS was .972 and his fastball has been clocked at 102 miles per hour. He doesn’t turn 18 until August.
He also carries the hopes of the MLB front office. Greene is a graduate of its player development program. At age 7, he began attending the Urban Youth Academy in Compton. At age 15, he helped the USA 18-and-under team win the World Cup. In a sport that has struggled recently to attract black youths, Greene is seen as someone who could help reverse the trend.
“If there was ever a young man who could live up to a Sports Illustrated cover at age 17, I think Hunter is that young man,” said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday night.
There is no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect, of course. And the Reds recent draft history, especially with pitchers, has been suspect. Announced as a pitcher, Greene is the fourth pitcher in the last seven years the club has drafted with its first pick. None of the previous three are currently in the majors.
Robert Stephenson, taken out of high school at No. 27 overall in 2011, was 0-2 with an 8.03 ERA for the Reds this season before being shipped back to Triple-A Louisville. He’s walked eight batters in nine innings there. Nick Travieso, taken out of high school at No. 14 in 2012, and Nick Howard, taken out of Virginia at No. 19 in 2014, are both on the minor league 60-day disabled list with shoulder problems.
The last Reds first-round pitcher to pan out was Mike Leake in 2008. The former Arizona State star gave the franchise five-plus excellent seasons (62-47 with a 3.89 ERA) before being sent to the Giants in the Adam Duvall trade. He’s currently 5-5 with a 2.70 ERA for the Cardinals.
Still, Greene is purported to be a different kind of prospect. There’s that triple-digit fastball. And, like University of Louisville pitcher/first baseman Brendan McKay, taken at No. 4 overall Monday by Tampa Bay, if Greene can’t make it on the mound, he could be a major league shortstop — if he can handle the expectations.
“He’s the best prospect in the draft class and one of the most gifted teenage players I’ve ever seen,” said ESPN analyst Keith Law. “But even I think the weight of these expectations is unreasonable.”
Meanwhile, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper tweeted Greene would automatically be a top-10 prospect, which would give the Reds two. Ex-Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel, taken with last year’s No. 2 overall pick, is currently at No. 9. He’s hitting .303 with four homers and 30 RBI at Double-A Daytona.
Plus, Greene gives the Reds a much-needed attraction. Given the way the season is going — Cincinnati was 29-34 before Tuesday night’s game at San Diego — Reds fans might spend more time tracking Greene’s progress than that of the big league club.
Cincinnati Reds first-round draft picks
Sherman Oaks, CA
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
West Brook, TX
La Grange, TX