The Cincinnati Reds will probably select high school pitcher Hunter Greene with the second overall pick in tonight’s MLB amateur draft, gaining the most hyped high school prospect since Bryce Harper. They’ll also be getting one of the most interesting young prospects in recent memory.
Greene was profiled by Lee Jenkins for a Sports Illustrated cover story in April, and it’s clear that MLB is going to market the living hell out of the kid before he even reaches the majors:
“This is exactly the kind of kid we desperately need,” says one major league official. Greene is African-American, arriving at a time when baseball grapples with a dearth of African-American players. At six he started wearing Jackie Robinson’s number 42. At seven he talked with Dan Rather for a piece on AXS-TV about race and his chosen sport. At 13 he won an essay-writing contest that earned him a meeting with Robinson’s daughter, Sharon. Last year he ate lunch on Ventura Boulevard with pal Dave Winfield to discuss the future of baseball. And last month he threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Ladera Little League, situated in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. After his speech (“Your children are not being drafted today,” he cautioned the parents. “Ice cream after the game always works”), Greene stood at the bottom of the mound on the Majors field, tears under his Aviators. “I get it,” he said, in reference to the responsibility he is about to inherit.
Greene went to Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., a school that also counts Giancarlo Stanton as an alum. Greene played for MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, the league’s program for creating opportunities for high-level baseball training in predominantly black neighborhoods. Jenkins notes that unlike the kids the UYAs ostensibly aim to recruit, Greene is not from the area or an underprivileged family, adding that Greene’s dad “is a renowned private investigator who handled Johnnie Cochran’s cases for two decades, starting at the end of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.”
But what makes Greene a must-know prospect is that like Japanese sensation Shohei Otani, he is a legitimate two-way player. Green is most likely going to end up as a pitcher, but Jenkins says the youngster has already hit balls entirely out of Wrigley Field and the Padres’ stadium with a wooden bat. He’s a talented shortstop, and will likely get some reps in the field in his first year or two in the minors, but his biggest upside is on the mound. His fastball is currently sitting in the high-90s, going up to 102, per Keith Law, who writes that:
He’s the best prospect in the draft class and one of the most gifted teenage players I’ve ever seen. But even I think the weight of these expectations is unreasonable. It’s hard enough to be a big leaguer; it’s harder still to play as both a position player and a pitcher, which is something Greene wants to continue doing.
Greene is apparently learning to speak Korean, enjoys painting, is really into yoga, and has “received four certificates of recognition from L.A.-area politicians for his community service efforts,” including a sock drive for the homeless in downtown Los Angeles.
If Greene sounds too good to be true, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking so. He is the player Rob Manfred, currently presiding over a league that is bereft of stars with crossover appeal, would create in a lab if he could. There’s going to be an unbelievable amount of hype around him, and he seems destined for a fast-track to the majors.
Greene is considered the best player available in the draft tonight, but is projected to be passed on by the Twins in favor of Vanderbilt pitcher Kyle Wright. That means the Reds will have a good shot at drafting him, but if for whatever reason they pass, the Padres will certainly be there to take him off the board.
Even if Greene doesn’t go No. 1 overall, he’ll be the guy to know coming out of this draft. Let’s just hope, for the sake of our entertainment and the strength of the sport, that he meets the wildly high expectations already placed on him.