Hunter Greene is the top-ranked prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft class. The 17-year-old high school senior from Notre Dame High in Southern California has the chance to be the first prep right-hander taken No. 1 overall in the history of the Draft. As we approach the Draft (June 12-14 on MLB Network and MLB.com), we'll be running a four-part series on Greene.
SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. -- Hunter Greene strode to the mound for his first outing of the season in January. Already thought of as a high-end Draft prospect -- he was No. 1 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects list that went up in December -- a good number of scouts were on hand to see how he eased into his final campaign at Notre Dame High School.
Greene felt pretty good over the course of the few innings he tossed. Sitting in the dugout, he figured he probably sat around 92-94 mph, maybe touched the mid 90s, as he wasn't going full tilt so early. When Greene came out of the dugout and caught his father, Russell's, eye, he could not believe what he saw.
"My dad peeked over and gave me the 1-0-2," Greene said, with hand signals. "I was like, 'What? No way.' I looked at him and he said, 'Yeah.' It was crazy."
Crazy doesn't begin to paint the proper picture. Greene's early foray into triple digits created even more buzz than was already there in the scouting industry, set the Twitterverse ablaze and had people talking about how this 17-year-old could become the first high school right-hander in the 52-year history of the Draft to be taken No. 1 overall. And, of course, it landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
2ALL my teammates in SoCal from all the yrs who pushed me 2 get better & kept the game fun.All of U R my bros & this @SInow belongs 2 us!������ pic.twitter.com/Zf04m1B23o
Everyone knew Greene was going to be a solid high school player at Notre Dame, a program in Los Angeles that has produced players like Giancarlo Stanton, Brendan Ryan, Jack McDowell, former No. 1 pick Tim Foli and Hall of Famer Pat Gillick, all of whom have their names across the outfield wall. He'd largely cut his teeth at MLB's Urban Youth Academy, where learning from first-rounders like Dominic Smith of the Mets and J.P. Crawford of the Phillies clearly prepared him for the path ahead.
@HunterGreene17 I don't care how hard you throw, I'm still gonna take you deep #102
UCLA head coach John Savage knew he was looking at a potential contributor at the college level before Greene even set foot on Notre Dame's campus, getting a commitment from him while he was still in eighth grade.
"It was extremely early," Savage said. "He was just very athletic, very comfortable in his movements. He wasn't the fastest-moving guy. The run tool was in question. But he had long levers and was a very easy mover at short. He was a very projectable, long, lean, lacked-strength guy you could really dream on. There was enough there you could buy, you felt comfortable it was going to be better, and perhaps a lot better."
Neither Savage nor longtime Notre Dame coach Tom Dill had any idea how much better. Dill admits it gave him pause to have a kid committed to a college before he had played an inning for him. For the veteran high school coach, watching Greene's gradual progress, rather than the common "huge leap forward year," is what stands out.
"The thing he's able to do is continue to improve," Dill said. "I really think that's what sets him apart. If you tracked him from freshman to senior year and watched his growth in every area, it's steady in every area. I've not ever seen that as long as I've been coaching."
As a freshman, Greene hit down in the order and struggled a bit, but Dill knew he'd get better. He went from throwing 84-85 mph in relief as a freshman to touching 90 mph as a sophomore. At the plate, Greene worked on using the opposite field more. That helped him not only win his league's MVP award but state Player of the Year honors -- no small feat in California. As a junior, Greene was touching 95 mph while continuing to play a good shortstop and swing the bat well. The power really showed up over the summer, with some showcase home run derby performances that left an impression. Then came that first start and the triple-digit radar readings.
The narrative changes
Entering this season, Greene was known as a legitimate two-way player, and there were organizations that liked his power potential and ability to stay on the dirt long-term defensively.
Teams still agree Greene would be a sure-fire first-round pick as a position player, but the minute he took that step forward on the mound, he separated himself as a top-of-the-Draft kind of pitching prospect. Either the Twins, Reds or Padres -- owners of the first three picks in the Draft (June 12-14, with live coverage of Day 1 on MLB Network and MLB.com and Days 2 and 3 exclusively on MLB.com) -- will almost certainly take him.
e always known that I'm able to be just as good at the plate and on the field, and be able to contribute just as much to a team doing both. But I understood what people were thinking, being able to put me on the mound and say, 'Hunter is here. He's going to be a pitcher for the rest of his career.'"
This doesn't mean there isn't work for Greene to do. Not everyone loves the right-hander's breaking ball, and some evaluators feel a lack of deception in his delivery gives hitters a longer look and makes him a touch less dominant.
There are two factors at play that could persuade a team trying to decide whether to take Greene up high. One is his plus athleticism, which is definitely an asset on the mound in terms of learning and repeating a delivery. As Dill puts it, "You just have this open canvas. If you want him to throw a pitch, show it to him and he'll be doing it. It's that simple."
The other is that Greene, who won't turn 18 until August, is well aware of the work he needs to do to succeed at the next level. This work ethic sends him to the gym five times a week in the offseason and multiple times a week during the spring. And Greene's plus baseball IQ will certainly help him hone his craft.
"There's going to be a time when I'm going to hit the Minor Leagues or the big leagues or college, guys are going to be able to see that my arm slot is here on a curveball, here on a slider and up higher on a fastball," Greene said. "They'll know what pitch is coming and they'll be able to hit it. I have to learn how to have the same arm speed and same arm angle and be able to trick guys."
All of this talk about pitching might seem a bit odd when you consider the fact that Greene hasn't thrown a competitive pitch since mid-April. That's when the right-hander was shut down for the remainder of the spring to protect his future, according to Coach Dill, a decision that caused many in the scouting industry to scratch their heads.
"If he was throwing 95, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Dill said, pointing to the injury history of high school hurlers throwing 100-plus mph, including Lucas Giolito, whom Dill saw firsthand in his league. "But when you start hitting that, and you're going to be doing something special … What would be the purpose?"
The competitor in Greene wanted the ball in his hand. But he also understands why the decision was made. The fact Greene got to still hit third and play shortstop did help cushion that blow, though Notre Dame's playoff run ended with a second-round loss to Redlands East Valley on Tuesday.
"I love competing and being able to contribute to my team and help them win games, but at the end of the day, I understand the bigger picture," Greene said. "I understand that I need to be healthy.
"I was shocked with how my coach handled it. He was professional. He was great. My team was supportive."
"It wasn't difficult to make that decision because I'm mostly concerned about him," Dill said. "I want to be able to hand him off to the next level and let them do some amazing things with him."