It’s been nearly five years since Hunter Greene was drafted right out of high school and blessed with the Most Exciting Prospect In Baseball moniker. If he’s faded from the public consciousness since then, it’s likely down to a Tommy John surgery that cost him a significant amount of time on the mound, and the 2020 season being mostly a wash due to the pandemic, and the fact that he set aside any ambitions to be a true two-way player fairly early on. Also, nobody spends that much time thinking about the Reds, including the people that own the team. But Greene is here now, at long last, and he appears to be cool as hell.
After an electric big league debut against the Braves last week, Greene made his second MLB start against the Dodgers on Saturday, and once again acquitted himself quite well. His line (five innings, two earned runs, six strikeouts) is one that any young pitcher facing the Dodgers should be proud of, but it was a different set of numbers that were being trumpeted far and wide once Greene’s start was over. What people wanted to talk about was Greene’s heater:
I am not the sort of person who wants to acknowledge something as arbitrary and ultimately meaningless as “most 100 mph pitches thrown in a game since 2008” as a phrase that belongs in a real record book, but I am the kind of person who would like to say this about Hunter Greene: Goddamn, that guy throws hard! Teams all over the big leagues are laden with guys who can throw in triple digits, and relievers who can sit around that mark for an entire inning, but sometimes it’s worth taking a moment to marvel at just how much velocity there is in the game today. I was not that young when the best chance anyone had at seeing multiple 100 mph fastballs thrown in a game was after some steroidal closer came charging out of the bullpen. Now we have guys like Greene starting games and smoothly pumping three dozen triple-digit heaters over the plate over the course of five innings. It’s nuts!
Velocity isn’t a guaranteed marker of success, of course, and Greene has a long way to go before he can prove that this level of heat is sustainable over the course of an entire season. (Jacob deGrom might have some words of warning there.) The speed on his fastball did indeed dip in the latter half of his 2021 minor-league campaign, and the pitch itself has at times been surprisingly hittable. Greene was getting tagged pretty good throughout spring training, and it wasn’t until the final two innings of his last tune-up start that he really started missing bats with his fastball. Greene chalked that up to a mechanical tweak he made in the middle of that start, the details of which he was coy about. From the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“There were some minor adjustments and some tinkering that I had to do mechanically that made a difference with all of my pitches and how it came out,” Greene said. “I’ll leave it at that.”Cincinnati Enquirer
Whatever adjustment Greene made (it seems like he moved his arm slot down a little bit), it has continued to produce good results in the regular season. Greene’s fastball has a whiff rate of 39.6 percent so far this season, which is the type of number you usually see next to some ungodly breaking pitch. Speaking of those, Greene has been mixing in a slider that is carrying a whiff rate of 47.1 percent through his first two starts.
The velocity is likely to continue being the thing that grabs headlines as Greene goes on establishing himself as a viable big-leaguer, but to focus only on the speed of his pitches would be to overlook what really makes him such an exciting prospect, which is that he is quickly learning how to actually pitch. Lots of guys can throw hard now, but the pitchers who stick around and find success are the ones who have the presence of mind to make mechanical adjustments when necessary, and know how to keep hitters off-balance with a varied attack. Here’s hoping Greene continues to grow as a pitcher going forward, because one with his combination of feel and stuff is much more fun to watch as a starter than a late-inning reliever.