BILLINGS – June 12, 2017: a day that will change the trajectory of the Cincinnati Reds.
That’s what baseball’s brightest minds said about the Reds’ selection of Hunter Greene with the No. 2 overall pick in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Greene was a high school phenom – a 6’3” specimen with homerun power and a 102 miles-per-hour fastball.
Sports Illustrated made him their cover-boy in May, calling him ‘Baseball’s LeBron.’ And he was headed to Billings – or was he?
First things first, the Reds had to convince Greene to sign by July 7th at 3:00 pm. And they did – by 2:59 pm. It was the richest signing bonus in Major League history – $7.23 million. Eight days later, he touched down in the Magic City.
By that point, Greene hadn’t played organized ball in two-and-a-half months, so the Reds weren’t going to overwork their future. You might think a 17-year-old kid would hate that, but we quickly found out Greene is well beyond his years.
“I want to be the best that I can when I go out there and compete,” Greene said. “I don’t want to regret anything thinking I could have thrown a couple more bullpens, or that I could have worked out a little better so I’m 100%. Obviously, it’s different playing every day instead of playing three days out of the week for high school, so I’ve got to have some good endurance and be ready to go out there and compete.”
If Greene didn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment, it’s because he had been dealing with the hysteria for months.
“His senior year, everything just really took off,” said Greene’s father, Russell. “At that point things became real critical. Every move, every decision.”
Greene is as well-rounded a teenager as most have ever met. He’s learning to speak Korean, loves yoga and plays the violin.
“I’m really not a person that likes to sit around a lot,” admitted Hunter. “I’m really active – I like to be out and do a lot of things.”
He finally got his chance in Billings on August 8th. He was drafted as a pitcher, but Greene says he wants to hit in the majors too, so thousands packed into Dehler Park to see him make his professional debut at designated hitter. After an 0-3 start, he came up with two runners on in the bottom of the 7th. When the dust settled, it was a two-run triple – his first career hit.
“Ray (Martinez) said when I got to third, I almost broke his hand slapping when I gave him a high-five,” Greene said. “The excitement was definitely there.”
Greene got 30 at-bats in the season’s final month – none better than that triple. But again, he was drafted as a future ace, so thousands more showed up August 27th for his debut on the mound.
Greene’s first pitch? A fastball down the pipe at 98 miles-per-hour. He’d routinely hit that number in the outing. The best moment came minutes later. Greene fired a high fastball right by the bat of K.J. Harrison, and was fired up walking off the mound at the end of the inning – but it was only strike two. The kid could at least laugh at himself as he walked back to the mound, because he knew it would only take one more pitch.
Greene fired another 98 miles-per-hour fastball by Harrison to actually end the inning and gave a tip of the cap to the Dehler Park fans who give him a standing ovation.
“That’s the best feeling,” Greene said after his 15-pitch debut. “Being able to go out there in the first game and get a strikeout under my belt, and hear the fans and the crowd and my teammates cheering me on was great.”
He pitched two more times for the Mustangs – the last start on September 6th, where he struck out four in three innings. After the season ended, he spent time in the Arizona instructional league, facing mostly AA and AAA hitters. He told his hometown California newspaper, the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, that he dominated the Dodgers – players who were on standby for playoff and World Series call-ups at the time.
Greene lives in Las Vegas now, training at UNLV each day. He told the Signal that he will move up to Class A Dayton in the spring, which marks the end of Greene’s time in Billings.