Sunday Notes: Riley Greene and Bobby Witt Jr. Are Only Getting Better

Riley Greene was 18 years old and only three months removed from being drafted fifth-overall when he was first featured here at FanGraphs in September 2019. Harking back to our earlier conversation, I asked the Detroit Tigers rookie outfielder what he knows now that he didn’t know then.

“When I first started, I didn’t really think about much,”replied Greene, who celebrated his 22nd birthday four days ago. “I kind of just went up there, and was free-swinging almost. I was a young kid who didn’t really know anything. Since then, I’ve come up with a routine and am more educated on what I need to do at the plate. I have a plan. Whether it works or not is up the baseball gods.”

The extent to which the baseball gods have been on his side is relative. Greene isn’t exactly setting the world on fire — he has a 100 wRC+ and five home runs in 400 plate appearances — but again, he’s been old enough to take a legal drink for barely over a year. He also came into the season with just 198 professional games under his belt, only 55 at the Triple-A level. His potential far exceeds his present.

In some respects, Greene is much the same player Detroit drafted in the first round out of Oviedo, Florida’s Paul J. Hagerty High School.

“My swing is kind of what it’s always been,” Greene told me this summer. “Whatever works works, so I haven’t really tried to change much. At the same time, I’m bigger and stronger, so while it might be a little different, what I’m trying to do with my swing is essentially the same. I feel like I’ve always had a pretty good feel for the strike zone, and I want to stay in the gaps. As much as anything, I try to keep things simple.”

A player he no longer shares a clubhouse with helped educate him to the ins and outs of major-league baseball. Prior to being dealt from Detroit to Atlanta in August, Robbie Grossman served as a mentor to the young outfielder, going out of his way to share advice. Greene credits Grossman’s taking him under his wing as a valuable part of his rookie-year experience.

As for what it’s been like to put on a Detroit Tigers uniform for the majority of the season, let’s just say that Greene is exactly where he wants to be.

“It’s really, really exciting,” said Greene. “It’s a dream come true. Being up here on the big stage, playing at the highest level of baseball… I mean, what else can you ask for?”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Andre Thornton went 6 for 6 against Chris Codiroli.

Albert Belle went 6 for 8 against Mike Hampton.

Carlos Baerga went 6 for 10 against Nolan Ryan.

Grady Sizemore went 9 for 18 against Félix Hernández.

Jim Thome went 10 for 24 against Bobby Witt.

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I first learned of Bobby Witt Jr. when I saw him win the High School Home Run Derby at Nationals Park in 2018. Four years later, the 22-year-old shortstop is hitting baseballs over fences at a far higher level of play. Drafted second-overall in 2019 out of Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High School, Witt has 20 homers to go with a 102 wRC+ in his rookie season with the Kansas City Royals.

I recently asked Witt how his current swing compares to one I’d seen at Nationals Park.

“It really hasn’t changed that much,” replied Witt, whose 57 extra-base hits are a Royals rookie record. “My swing has pretty much been the same since I was 12, 13 years old. “What you saw was also just my regular swing. I think home runs just kind of happen. To me, line drives are mis-hit home runs.”

Witt may have meant that in the inverse — home runs are mis-hit line drives — but either way, any mechanical tweaks he’s made have been minor in nature. The youngster has primarily worked to improve his timing, and to develop a more-nuanced approach against baseball’s best arms. Blessed with one of the game’s highest ceilings, he’s striving to improve at an age where most players his age are still in the minors.

“I think my season has gone pretty well,” opined Witt. “There are a lot of things I’ve learned from, and all of the failures I’ve gone through will only help me as I go forward. I think I’m going to keep getting better each and every year. It’s all about getting more experience, because who I am is good enough. I just need to keep sharpening my craft.”

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A quiz:

Which pitcher born in the Dominican Republic has the most career MLB wins?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

San Diego Padres broadcaster Don Orsillo called his 3,000th MLB game earlier this week. Arguably the best in the business, Orsillo was behind the microphone in Boston from 2001-2015 before moving into his current position.

Rick Hummel is retiring from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch after 51 years behind the keyboard. Hummel has covered the Cardinals for all but the first year of his tenure at the paper.

John Wathan, who has spent 47 of his 51 years in professional baseball with the Kansas City Royals, will retire after this season. A manager, coach, scout, and broadcaster after his playing days, Wathan was a fleet-footed catcher who swiped 26 bases in 1982, and 28 in 1983.

Tom Urbani, who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1993-1996, and for the Detroit Tigers in the second half of the 1996 season, died earlier this week at age 54. A left-hander who was credited with 10 big-league wins, Urbani later played in Italy.

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The answer to the quiz is Bartolo Colon, with 247 wins. Juan Marichal has the second-most wins among Dominican-born pitchers, with 243.

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Dillon Tate pushed back a little when I suggested that he’s having a breakout season. The first words out of his mouth upon hearing that were “I beg to differ.” The response surprised me. The Baltimore Orioles right-hander came into the year with a career mark of 1-9 with three saves and a 4.61 ERA. His 90 appearances had come over parts of three big-league seasons.

He did acknowledge that his 2022 numbers are his best to date. In 65 appearances comprising 72 innings, Tate is 4-4 with four saves and a 2.88 ERA. But again, “breakout season” isn’t the way the fourth-overall pick in the 2015 draft views it. In his mind, the current campaign is merely a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Issuing fewer free passes has played a meaningful role in his improved fortunes. Tate’s walk rate this year is a minuscule 1.6, and it came through concerted effort. Moreover, it was jumpstarted by something he read.

“I saw an article about Liam Hendrix,” explained Tate. “Last year he had a total of seven walks, and I think five of them scored. Seeing him talk about that, I decided that I needed to address that in my game.”

The 28-year-old added that the only physical adjustment he’s made has been to his slider, which is no longer hard and short, but rather “slower and bigger.” Command-wise that seems counterintuitive — the more a pitch breaks, the harder it can be to land in the zone — but the righty wasn’t necessarily agreeing with that suggestion either.

“Theoretically, yes, but everything comes down to repetition,” Tate told me. “I’m throwing that pitch in the zone more, and making the adjustment when I need to. It’s all about the reps.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Koudai Senga, who reportedly hopes to pitch in MLB next year, had a 1.94 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 144 innings for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The 29-year-old right-hander is 87-44 with a 2.59 ERA over 11 NPB seasons.

Roki Sasaki went 9-4 with a 2.02 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 129-and-a-third innings with the Chiba Lotte Marines. The 20-year-old right-hander with the triple-digits fastball became an international sensation earlier this season when he threw 17 consecutive perfect innings.

Nippon-Ham Fighters left-hander Takayuki Katoh had 98 strikeouts and walked just 11 batters in 147-and-two-third innings this season. The 30-year-old hurler went 8-7 with 124 hits allowed and a 2.01 ERA over 21 starts.

Jung-hoo Lee continues to dominate with the KBO. With a week left in the regular season, the 24-year-old Kiwoom Heroes outfielder is slashing .351/.422/.581 with a 175 wRC+. His 191 hits include 36 doubles, 10 triples, and 23 home runs.

Yasiel Puig is slashing .279/.371/.479 with 21 home runs for the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes. The 31-year-old outfielder last played in MLB with Cleveland in 2019.

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Seattle’s Robbie Ray and Kansas City’s Luke Weaver engaged in a pregame standoff last Sunday, with each determined to be the last to leave the field following the national anthem. Hands on heart and unwilling to budge, ignoring repeated orders to leave the field, both were ejected by home plate umpire Adrian Johnson.

Social media reacted as social media is wont to do. The mere idea that players would be tossed for such silliness was anathema in their collective eyes. The arbiters were clearly wrong.

Actually, the umpire(s) had little choice. Per rule, uniformed personnel — save for the nine defenders, the batter, the on-deck hitter, and the base coaches — can’t be on the field once the umpire signals that an inning is ready to start. At a reported three minutes, the shenanigans-delay was long enough. Ray and Weaver deserved what they got.

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FARM NOTES

Tampa Bay Rays affiliates combined to go 411-302 this year for a .576 winning percentage, the best of any organization. Baseball America has the complete list.

Edouard Julien slashed .300/.441/.490 with 17 home runs in 508 plate appearances for Double-A Wichita. No. 17 in our Minnesota Twins prospect rankings, the 23-year-old infielder was featured here at FanGraphs last October.

Dalton Rushing slashed .424/.539/.778 with eight home runs in 128 plate appearances with Low-A Rancho Cucamonga. The 21-year-old left-handed-hitting catcher/first baseman was drafted 40th overall this summer by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the University of Louisville.

Tommy Sommer had a 2.71 ERA to go with 129 strikeouts and 92 hits allowed in 123 innings between LowA Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem. The 24-year-old (as of last weekend) southpaw was drafted out of Indiana University in the 10th round last year by the Chicago White Sox.

Yu-Min Lin had a 2.72 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 56-and-a-thirds innings while making seven starts each in the Arizona Complex League and with Low-A Visalia. The 19-year-old left-hander from Taitung, Taiwan was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks last December.

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Who was the nastiest pitcher you faced this year? I’ve asked that question, in so may words, to several minor-leaguer hitters in recent years. Earlier this week I posed it to Red Sox prospect David Hamilton.

“I’ll say it was probably Luis Medina, from the [Somerset] Yankees,“ replied the speedy middle infielder, who along with swiping 70 bags logged a 104 wRC+ with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. “He was pretty good. He had something like three different fastballs, maybe four different fastballs. Sinker, cutter, rising fastball… and he threw 99 [mph] too. He was the toughest, or at least one of the toughest, guys I faced this year.”

A 23-year-old right-hander, Medina was acquired from the Yankees by the A’s at the trade deadline in the six-player deal centered around Frankie Montas and Ken Waldichuk. Currently No. 4 in our Oakland Athletics prospect rankings, Medina had a 5.24 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 92-and-two-thirds innings at the Double-A level.

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I asked the same question to Kyle Stowers. The Baltimore Orioles rookie outfielder named a pitcher he’d faced earlier this season when he was playing for the Norfolk Tides.

“I’ve yet to put a ball in play against him, so I’ll say [Calvin] Faucher, with the Rays,” said Stowers, who has a 108 wRC+ and three home runs in 87 plate appearances with the O’s. “I faced him a couple of times in Triple-A, and he throws a breaking ball at 90 mph with pretty high spin. Up here, Dylan Cease’s breaking ball is similar in that it is firm with high spin. That’s a pitch that’s given me a lot of trouble.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Derrick Goold wrote about Albert Pujols’s storied career for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Score’s Travis Sawchik talked to players who chased their dreams in the minors for 10-plus years, only to never reach the majors. Per Sawchik’s research, a total of 1,420 minor leaguers since 1891 have reached 4,000 plate appearances without ever playing in MLB.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike Persak wrote about how the Pirates bullpen leaves much to be desired.

Hector Lopez, who played in five World Series with the New York Yankees and went on to become the first Black manager in Triple-A, died recently at age 93. Julia Kreuz wrote about the trailblazing Panamanian for MLB.com.

Dusty Baker received the first-ever high-five from Glenn Burke after hitting his 30th home run of the season on today’s date in 1977. John Fredland recapped the event for SABR’s Games Project.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Cleveland Guardians have recorded an MLB-best 29 wins in their last at-bat of the game this season. They also lead all teams with 12 wins when trailing after seven innings.

Scott Barlow has won all five of his career decisions against Cleveland. The Kansas City Royals closer is 3-0 versus the Guardians this season.

The Baltimore Orioles hit five triples at Fenway Park in the first 13 innings of this week’s four-game series against the Red Sox — and none in the ensuing 23 innings. The Orioles record for triples in a series remains six, which came in a four-game set versus the Washington Senators in 1957.

J.T. Realmuto has caught 131 games this season, the most in the majors. In 1972, Randy Hundley was behind the plate 160 times for the Chicago Cubs. He started in 156 of them.

Frank Fernandez, who caught for four teams from 1967-1972, finished his career with 145 hits and 164 walks. He had a .199 batting average and a .350 OBP.

On today’s date in 1976, J.R. Richard went the distance for his 20th win of the season, fanning 13 batters along the way, as the Houston Astros beat the San Francisco Giants 10-1. The 6-foot-8 right-hander helped his own cause with a home run and three RBIs,

On today’s date in 1968, Bob Gibson logged 17 strikeouts over nine shutout innings as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers 4-0 in Game One of the World Series. Denny McLain, who’d gone 31-6 during the regular season, took the loss.

On October 3, 1947, New York Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens was one out away from a World Series no-hitter when he surrendered a walk-off, two-run double to Brooklyn Dodgers pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto. Bevens issued 10 free passes in the 3-2 Game 4 loss.

Players born on today’s date include Paul Dicken, who went 0 for 13 over parts of the 1964 and 1966 seasons with the Cleveland Indians. All 13 of Dicken’s plate appearances came as a pinch-hitter.

Also born on today’s date was Bob Coluccio, who played for three teams, primarily the Milwaukee Brewers, from 1973-1978. An outfielder who hit 15 home runs for Milwaukee in his rookie season, Coluccio drove a beer truck for owner Bud Selig’s beer distributorship that winter.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Shirtless Bartolo Colon
1 month ago

Best Sunday quiz ever David!!!