'Cage-Killer' Green Is A Hit With Ports Coaches
With all of five professional games under his belt, Grant Green lasted just more than two weeks in major league camp during spring training before the Athletics reassigned him. But it didn't even take that long for Oakland's coaching staff to give the 2009 first-rounder a nickname.
"We called him 'Cage-Killer' because we couldn't get him out of there," minor league hitting coordinator Greg Sparks said. "We like to encourage some of the younger players to take extra swings. But we didn't need to do that with Grant. He was always going up to coaches and bringing them back to the batting cages to watch him hit."
Despite the move to minor league camp, Green continued to seek out coaches for questions as he took extra swings in the batting cage. Now Green is well into his first full season with high Class A Stockton, and Ports' hitting coach Tim Garland says Green is still in the batting cages taking extra practice all the time.
Green's work ethic, commitment, and humility was a pleasant surprise for veterans like Garland and Sparks, who have been around long enough to see the sense of entitlement that comes with some first-round picks.
It's simple for Green. Working to become a better hitter is the best way he knows to get to the major leagues the fastest. He knows that he needs to work on his defense if he plans to play shortstop long term, but he is also acutely aware of his strengths and his limitations.
"I know I am not going to be a Gold Glove shortstop right away. Someday I hope to become a Gold Glover, but I still have a long way to go," Green said. "I also know that I am an offensive shortstop, it's why I got drafted and it's how I will get to the big leagues. So why not work to perfect my greatest tool?"
It's hard to question Green's logic, especially given the impressive debut the former Southern California star is having with the Ports.
Green is still getting his footing defensively. He was tied for the third-most errors in the California League with 20, and Ports manager Steve Scarsone, a former big league middle infielder for eight seasons, has been working with Green to nail down a consistent arm slot on his throws.
But offensively Green has barely missed a beat since his days of tearing up Pacific 10 Conference pitchers. Green was hitting .320/.370/.479 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs in 328 at-bats. He topped the league in hits (105) and was second, not surprisingly considering his passion for hitting, in at-bats (328). His 75-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio shows he still needs to develop discipline, but the numbers aren't unusual for young players who are used to swinging early and often in college.
It's no secret that, as an organization, The A's preach patience and plate discipline to their hitters, and have been working with Green to balance out his 75-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio. so in order to remedy some of Green's over-aggressive tendencies, the organization developed a daily plan for Green to discuss with Garland. It's not the same plan every game—sometimes the subject is seeing a strike before swinging, and sometimes it's taking a 2-0 pitch no matter how good it looks. What it does is force Green to be more patient, and thus get better pitches to hit.
"At first it was hard," Green said. "I would watch a first-pitch fastball go right down the middle and think 'Man that was my pitch!'. But as the season went on it got easier and easier because I got to see the success. I got to see that it works. Now they barely tell me anymore, I just do it anyway."
Oakland farm director Keith Lieppman shrugs off the concerns about Green's high strikeout totals, saying "We would rather have him be too aggressive than too passive." He and Sparks are also both quick to point out that Green's advanced approach at the plate helps him stand out as a hitter.
A Polished Approach
Green comes from what Lieppman describes as "a baseball rat family." His brother Garett was a San Diego State standout who played two seasons in the Dodgers organization before giving the sport up at the end of the 2009 season. His dad, Gregg, is a high school gym teacher responsible for helping his sons become polished hitters by stressing hitting to the opposite field.
Lieppman, Sparks, Scarsone and Garland agree that Green's biggest strength is his inside-out swing and uncanny ability to take a pitch the other way.
"His swing is a little unorthodox," Sparks said. "It's a little loose and a little handsy, but it's obvious he learned how to hit early because he takes some pitches that, down the road he will drive out of the ballpark, and goes to the opposite field for a base-hit. I'd compare his style of hitting to Andre Ethier's from when we had him. Not a lot of big power numbers, but once he gets loose and more comfortable with his swing, he could have some pop."
"The one thing that stands out to me is that if you look at some of his games, he has a bunch of games where he got four or five hits," Lieppman added. "A lot of young players will get their two hits and then take it easy. (Green) has a real killer instinct when he is hitting. He still stays inside a lot of balls and it's just a matter of getting to know his swing better. Honestly, I'd prefer him start with a mastery of the opposite field and then teach him to pull his hands through later."
Lieppman said the next step is to get Green into the Arizona Fall League before a possible promotion where he can continue to develop, and then from there a move to Double-A Midland could be in the works. But Green puts off any talk of the future, preferring to stay focused on the present and, of course, continue to work on his hitting.
"My goal coming into the season was just to do as well as I possibly could here and then see where that takes me," Green said. "The way I see it is that they put me here for a reason, to learn the game, and I am just going to keep doing that until they think I'm ready."