GOODYEAR, Ariz. — If a Reds fan were look just to the left of home plate on Saturday morning, it’d be easy to get very excited. There, chatting with one another, were the past and future of the organization. Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin was there. So, too, was one of Cincinnati’s all-time favorites, outfielder Eric Davis.
Standing with them was Hunter Greene, the 6-foot-4, 197-pound flamethrower whom the Reds had selected out of high school in California with the No. 2 overall pick last June. Greene had just finished dominating the Royals’ instructional league team, with one hit allowed and seven strikeouts over three spectacular innings.
The outing stood as a contrast to Greene’s last start, in which Kansas City’s youngest minor leaguers had done a number on Greene. Ever the competitor, Greene said afterward that he was determined not to let them do it to him again.
“I faced these guys last time and they won that last time, and I wasn’t going to let them win again,” Greene said. “I just took it more personal and went out there and competed and trusted in all my pitches. I was just competing out there and letting it go and having a game plan with my catcher about what pitches I’m going to throw and execute those pitches. I just took it more personal than last time. They beat me last time, and I wasn’t going to let them beat me again.”
Whatever Greene and catcher Hendrik Clementina cooked up before the game, it worked, because Greene was electric from his first pitch to his last. Of course, it certainly makes it easier when you can start with the kind of ferocious arsenal that Greene produces from his right arm.
The 18-year-old’s fastball sat between 98-101 mph on Saturday morning, and only dipped below that range once, when he touched 97. Moreover, the pitch featured devastating cutting life.
He also utilized a slider and a changeup, both of which got called strikes and swings-and-misses. Neither pitch was at its best on a consistent basis, but they both showed excellent potential throughout the course of Greene’s outing. Earlier in the week, Reds farm director Jeff Graupe mentioned that part of what Greene is working on during this year’s instructional league involves finishing off his slider better.
Those lessons seemed to have taken effect on Saturday. Greene’s third strikeout of the first inning came on a gorgeous front-door slider that locked up Royals catcher Chase Vallot and elicited a loud yelp of enthusiasm from Davis, watching intently from behind the backstop.
Greene also attributed to better, less-predictable sequencing of his pitches.
“I think them not knowing what I was going to throw in certain counts (helped),” Greene said. “They were guessing a lot. As a hitter myself, I know that being in situations where I’m guessing isn’t comfortable, especially when a guy is throwing very hard and he has multiple pitches to fall back on. That’s not the most comfortable thing, and I definitely put them in that position of making them guess a lot.”
Greene was regarded as a two-way prospect out of high school, and got 30 at-bats with Rookie-level Billings this year after signing with the Reds in July. He hasn’t gotten any time as a hitter in the instructional league, and is unsure what the plan for next year is as far as his workload is concerned.
Even if he never gets another at-bat as a professional, the experience he’s had as a hitter will serve him well as he matures as a pitcher and continues to think and try to set up hitters during the course of a game. He won’t lean on it, but it’s still a useful reference point to have at his disposal.
“It helps a lot. Sometimes you don’t think about it, you just go out there and compete and you don’t think about ‘OK, so I’m a hitter. What am I going to throw in this count, ‘” he said. “But sometimes it helps and I ask myself ‘What would I be thinking in a certain count,’ but not as much because the game is moving so fast and even though you’ve got to slow it down, you’re still kind of in the moment.”
Besides his outstanding stuff, Greene pitches extremely quickly, leaving hitters little time to set themselves and prepare for what’s coming next. That, plus his size and arsenal, he says, allows him to cut an intimidating presence on the mound. And on Saturday, that was certainly true.