Matt McLain socked a walk-off homer for the Cincinnati Reds in their Cactus League opener over the weekend, a homer that was notable as much for who hit it than what it accomplished on the scoreboard of an exhibition game. McLain, a prospect who has still yet to set foot on a field for a AAA team, gave us a glimpse of the future of the Reds with that swing, as there’s nobody here asking or expecting him to lead the line beginning this year.
I’ve made note of it before, but I’m hammering the point home again today - McLain was born on August 6th, 1999 in southern California. Hunter Greene, who I’m actually going to write a bit about here, was born on August 6th, 1999 in southern California, and we are very, very much asking and expecting him to lead the line beginning this year.
34 players born in the year 1999 have logged at least one plate appearance in a big league game, to date, while 23 have thrown at least one pitch at the level. Of them, only Fernando Tatis, Jr. (born January 2nd) and Vlaimir Guerrero, Jr. (March 16th) are the owners of more career bWAR than Greene, who emerged late last season as the kind of potential superstar that made him the 2nd overall pick back in 2017.
It’s something of a conundrum with Greene, likely due to the circuitous path he took to his big league debut last year. From being a 17 year old draftee commanding the largest-ever draft bonus (at the time) to the arm injuries, the lengthy rehab before still needing surgery, to the pandemic-induced cancellation of the 2020 season, it’s easy to feel like he’s someone who’s been around long enough to have gained more experience than he has, yet the way the Reds have gone about their business (or, lack thereof) has thrust him into a position of both spotlight and leadership right here, right now. There is no veteran figurehead on the team’s pitching staff right now, not in the rotation, the bullpen, or even really in camp in Goodyear for the next month - there is Hunter Greene, long-lauded future superstar, who at just 23 years of age is being tasked with carrying his full weight, and more.
He’s seventeen months younger than Jose Barrero, for the record, who is three days older than Brandon Williamson. Nick Lodolo, who has ample parallels to those presented here about Greene, has him by nineteen months. Spencer Steer is older than all those guys and, if my glancing is correct, Greene would be hands down the youngest player on the Reds Opening Day roster among the 26-man group I cobbled together in my first projections.
Of course, when you throw more triple-digit heaters than any starting pitcher ever and do so with precision and aplomb down the stretch of a big league season, it’s only natural to have through-the-moon expectations heaped upon you for the following season. That’s certainly the case regarding Greene, who struck out 164 batters in 125.0 IP at the big league level last year. Over his final 8 starts, he fanned 66 in 46.1 IP, yielded just 2 HR and 9 ER in total, and pitched to a 1.75 ERA, 2.12 FIP, and .531 OPS allowed - efforts that began a month prior to and finished almost two months after his 23rd birthday.
Greene’s 2023 campaign begins this afternoon in Goodyear, as he’ll toe the rubber for the Reds in Cactus League action opposite the Texas Rangers. In doing so, he may well be the Cincinnati Red with the best combination of being ‘known’ and being expected to play at a superstar-caliber level all year despite, as I’ve exhausted, being still so early in his career development. Tatis, Guerrero, Greene...I don’t think it’s going to take too long this season before all three of those ‘99 kids are being discussed at the same level.