Selfishly, I have been waiting for this opportunity for quite some time now - the chance to use a picture of Hunter Greene atop this blog with him playing real, live baseball in a Cincinnati Reds uniform. If the smile that ran across my face when I ran that image search and one returned in an indication of how giddy I was for that opportunity, just imagine what must’ve been coursing through Hunter’s veins when he was actually out there living it.
After being sidelined since the 2018 minor league season due to arm issues, arm surgery, rehab, and the lack of a 2020 MiLB season, Greene was on the mound for the Reds in their Cactus League game Tuesday night. And while the box score from the game will be both forgettable and illegible (thanks to ‘rolling’ the inning before a third and final out), every single thing we saw during the outing was a very, very powerful step forward.
He threw a ball 103 mph, and then did it again. He mixed in a hard breaking ball, and I don’t care that it caught the back leg of a left-handed hitter. He nailed a runner at the plate from behind 1B, and did so on a rope that was so pure it immediately removed all memory of him dropping the flip from Joey Votto to get into that position in the first place.
More important than anything, though, was that he was simply playing baseball again, and looked every single bit the talent that warranted selection with the #2 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. Yes, he hung a meatball to an expecting Jose Iglesias, who parked it over the LF fence in a show of force against the team that let him go. Yes, he missed spots more often than not. Yes, he absolutely looked like a guy who hadn’t pitched in a professional game of any kind in almost 3 years, and that’s absolutely, completely fine.
He’s 21 years old with a few additional months under his belt. When Nick Lodolo was basically that age, he was on the mound for the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League, playing rookie ball with the same elbow ligaments he had known since birth.
What we saw from Hunter last night was precisely what I’d hoped we’d see - that the Cincinnati Reds have perhaps the most boisterous right arm they have ever had, and that it’s the key piece of a prospect that could alter the course of the franchise in the coming years. He needs polish, as prospects all do. He needs familiarity with what he’s throwing, as all pitchers coming off surgery do. Everything we saw from him last night confirmed he’s fully capable of getting himself both now, though, as a healthy pitching prospect that should have us all salivating.
Tucker Barnhart confirmed as much in comments to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon last night, and easy cheese is going to get talked about a lot every fifth day going forward from now on.
C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic had similar echoes in his reaction to the game, with plenty of remarks from David Bell, too.
While Greene’s debut and gas certainly warranted, and earned, the bulk of the headlines, it goes without saying that Lodolo’s spring debut demands attention, too. The 2019 1st round pick of the Reds had seemingly the inverse outing of his counterpart, his smooth lefty delivery of 94-95 mph fastballs something of the perfect antidote to Green’s triple-digit offerings.
With Lodolo, though, the expectations were slightly different. He is and has been healthy, after all, and as a year and a half Greene’s senior, he’s a guy we were watching to see how he could potentially impact the Reds right this minute. What he showed us was also incredibly promising, as he looked very much as-advertised with generally good location, good movement, and an ability to retire big league hitters already in his repertoire. While Greene will be eased back into the rigors of pro ball in 2021 with both eyes on the future, there’s been a very real thought that Lodolo will be placed high enough in the minors this year that, if he continues to perform, could have him sniff the big leagues at some point this season. And what we saw from his last night certainly appeared to suggest that’s well within reason if things continue in this manner.
(Fun exercise - Google ‘Hunter Greene,’ count the number of articles about his outing, follow it up with a search for ‘Nick Lodolo,’ and then compare the two query counts. Present company included, it’s fascinating how overlooked Lodolo’s fine inning was in context.)
Anyway, the minor leagues were the other major baseball-related item in the news yesterday, once again with a fairly major structural change to announce. Last year, the minors were completely banged due to the pandemic, while this offseason saw MLB commissioner Fred Manrob wipe away some 25% of all MiLB franchises in a dastardly act of self-sabotage. Yesterday, though, the news from the minors finally seemed somewhat prudent, even if it again means the loss of previously desired baseball for the time being.
As ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported, the AAA season will be bumped back a month, putting it now on roughly the same schedule to start their 2021 season as AA, A, and the other A in baseball’s new, modified minor league plan. The impetus was due to the pandemic, again, in essence due to the concerns about how players would be called-up and demoted back and forth from MLB to AAA given that the two will have two separate sets of protocols in place. As a result, it appears we’ll be getting an April version of last year’s alternate site plan, with players on the cusp of call-ups being bubbled in their own spot close to MLB cities until the minors get fully up and running in May.
The residuals will hopefully be this - more players getting vaccinated, more fans getting vaccinated (and therefore more fans returning to games to generate revenue), and a AAA playoff season that will still, in theory, be able to be completed, albeit a little later than normal. All that combines to make this a pretty reasoned decision, something that’s a definite change of course from the baseball powers that be over the last few years.