Hunter Greene, the Cincinnati Reds top prospect, joined the Seth Daniels and Brian Page on the Rapsodo Baseball Podcast this past week to talk about all kinds of things. They spoke about his time growing up and playing baseball all the way through his time now, spent over at Prasco Park – the Reds alternate site for their 60-man player pool for the 2020 season.
What was interesting, though not entirely too surprising, was when Hunter Greene was asked when he was introduced to the technology side of things. Obviously being on the Rapsodo podcast (Rapsodo makes one of the most used tech devices in baseball that measures pitch speed, spin – both spin rate and angle of the spin, release angle, etc) the hosts were interested in some of that stuff. Greene noted that the first time he really got his hands on that more advanced information was this past spring.
“This year. Spring training. That was the first time I really tapped into the Rapsodo. I never had an issue with it, I wasn’t around it. Back home I don’t have a pitching coach. It’s just my dad and I that work when I go home in the offseason. I have a facility that I work out of, but it’s not like a Driveline or some of these other facilities throughout the country that have a bunch of portable mounds and have all the technology – it wasn’t like that. I never had an issue, it was never a thing where I wasn’t open to trying it or learning. And to be honest, I didn’t think I really needed it. Not in a cocky way, I felt good where I was development wise, health and everything. I just didn’t really think about it.”
It’s certainly worth noting that the last time Hunter Greene had really pitched in games was in July of 2018. That’s when he had his first elbow injury and was then shut down and he began treatment and rehab. But he did return to the mound and was pitching in some simulated games/live batting practice during spring training in 2019 before he re-injued his elbow at the end of March and wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 9th of 2019.
While there’s a difference between Rapsodo and Trackman, they measure many of the same things. Trackman has been in all of the Reds farm system ballparks for years now, including all of the ones that Hunter Greene has pitched at since he turned pro (Billings and Dayton). So the organization certainly did have that information, but it may not necessarily have been getting directly to the players.
“I think when the Reds made some moves in the offseason and brought over Boddy (Pitching coordinator Kyle Boddy) and Jags (Assistant pitching coordinator Eric Jaggers) and were able to get those guys over here in spring training, I started to talk to them about it, learn a little bit more and it just took off from there. It’s been a great tool for me to grow and learn from.”
It was last offseason that the Reds really seemed to go in a different direction when it came to their development of pitching. For whatever reason – and there are probably a whole lot of reasons – the Reds historically haven’t developed starting pitching. In the last three decades they can claim Brett Tomko, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake as the guys they brought up through their system and turned into Major League starting pitchers. As the kids used to say: The struggle was real. Cincinnati did something that other organizations couldn’t and convinced Kyle Boddy to join their organization and to try and change how things had been done when it comes to pitching development.
While there’s a lot of “weighted balls” and “technology” stuff that gets thrown around when people start talking about Driveline and Kyle Boddy (and the staff from Driveline), there is a lot more to what Boddy is hoping to bring to the Reds. But those things are important, too. And the technology aspect of it, while some of that was already around (the Reds for example began to get high speed cameras in 2019, they had the Trackman stuff everywhere for years), it seems that now more than before, that stuff is getting to the players a bit.
“Instant feedback has been great. I think that’s always kind of a tough thing for a lot of pitchers and professional athletes in general is instant feedback or trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t and just trying to tinker off of just what you think, and not like true data and instant feedback. I think it’s nice to throw a pitch and just be like ‘ah man, that’s not what I wanted to see, or that didn’t break enough’ and you can look right to your iPad or computer and see exactly what it is. I think it’s helped a lot and it’s gotten me to a pretty good place right now.”
With 2020 playing out how it has, it’s tough to know just how much of that kind of stuff would have gotten to everyone during the season. There is no season for the minor league guys. There’s the big leaguers, and then there’s the guys on the alternate roster. Instead of having 200+ minor league guys to work with, the development staff has about 30 guys to work with on an in-person basis (they are still doing what they can to try and work with guys remotely). That certainly does change up what they can do, how they can do it.
We’re going to have to wait until 2021, hopefully, to see how things go in regards to how the organization is taking different steps with how they are going about developing pitching under new leadership in the minor leagues. But it certainly already feels a little bit different than it did in the past with regards to how information is being passed to players when it comes to what the higher-ups feel is important information to their development, too.