It’s prospect list season right now, and with that comes the reaction (and often overreaction) to where certain prospects are ranked. In this specific case, we’re going to be talking about Hunter Greene, not being ranked, and why he’s now the most underrated prospect in the game of baseball.
Let’s rewind to the spring and summer of 2017. Hunter Greene was being talked about like a potential generational talent. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before the draft. A possible 2-way player who had top 50 in the draft talent as a shortstop, but his potential on the mound made the idea of a team not having him on the mound full time a non-starter. A 17-year-old who could sit 97-100 MPH with his fastball, elite athleticism, and maturity beyond his years – Greene was said to have it all.
Cincinnati was thrilled to see him available when they were drafting second overall after the Minnesota Twins chose to select shortstop Royce Lewis with the first overall pick. Signing late for a record bonus in the draft pool allotted era, Greene only threw 4.1 innings that first professional season. Following the season, despite barely playing, he was rated as the #29 prospect in the game by Baseball America.
In 2018 he got out to a very tough start. In his first seven games he allowed 30 hits and 19 earned runs over 17.0 innings for Low-A Dayton. A lot of that was the result of an absurd .560 BABIP – nearly twice the league average. But starting on May 24th he put together the kind of run that his talent would lead you to believe was in there all along. Over the next 11 games he posted a 2.63 ERA in 51.1 innings with 13 walks and 63 strikeouts. Opponents hit just .195/.265/.346 against him with a .269 BABIP.
That run doesn’t include his stint in the 2018 Futures Game that saw him hit 103 MPH with his fastball. But he only made two appearances after that before injuring his elbow. With a torn UCL he opted to go for treatment and rehab with the hopes he wouldn’t need Tommy John surgery. In January, with the injury known, he was rated as the #57 prospect in Baseball America’s Top 100 list.
Things seemed to be going well, with Greene noting in October that he was 100%. The next spring he was in Goodyear and throwing off of the mound, and while he was expected to start the season shortly after it began, he was going to be a bit behind the others who broke camp on time. But in the last appearance he made in spring training before everyone left to go to their city to start the season he re-injured his elbow, tearing his UCL. This time he chose to undergo Tommy John surgery and would miss the 2019 season. Knowing he had gone under the knife and was rehabbing his way back, prior to the start of spring training, Greene rated 76th on the Baseball America Top 100 list.
When spring training began, the right-handed pitcher unveiled his new mechanics on the mound for the first time. His arm action was shorter and mimicked the changes that Anthony DeSclafani had made. Unfortunately for all of us, COVID-19 ran wild through the country, and most of the world for that matter, and it led to no Minor League Baseball season happening. But that didn’t stop Hunter Greene from getting his work in. Before spring training, or whatever you want to call it started back up in July, Greene was hitting 102 MPH once again. While the right-handed pitcher didn’t immediately join the Reds 60-man player pool when the second spring training began, right before the start of the regular season, on July 22nd, Greene was added to the pool. He would spend the rest of the year pitching at Prasco Park for the Reds. By the end of September when the alternate sites shut down with the end of the season he had thrown 100 innings on the year.
Back on the mound. 102 MPH in his back pocket. Healthy and through the 2020 year. There were no stats available for guys who didn’t reach the Major Leagues, which Greene didn’t do. But despite there not being much to look at with all of the alternate training sites closed off to the public – including journalists and scouts (though most teams did at least share in a video/Trackman/Rapsodo data sharing program), Greene fell from the #76 spot before the season to outside of the Top 100 after the season.
All of that brings me to the headline of this article: Hunter Greene is the most underrated prospect in baseball. In two years, without an official season, he’s dropped more than 50 spots on the Baseball America prospect list. And all of that’s come as he’s returned to the mound, shown that his velocity is back, made it through some sort of workload (the 100 innings mentioned above clearly includes side sessions that weren’t at Prasco Park) in 2020.
What’s changed in the last year and a half since he was rated 57th overall. When that ranking came out it was known he had a torn UCL and was trying to rehab the injury without surgery. He would later need Tommy John surgery, which led to another drop in rankings – understandable. But he’s back and healthy now. The athleticism is still there. His secondary stuff is still projecting just like before. And he even added a fourth pitch when he came back – a cutter – that he didn’t have before.
All of that to say that he still has the feel of the guy who was rated 57th a few years ago. And he’s still got the kind of upside that very few players in the minors have. There’s always going to be some risk of injury with pitchers. But other than that risk that’s there for all of them, there’s not really any reason to look at Hunter Greene and think he’s not a Top 100 caliber prospect right now. It just feels like he’s not the “shiny new toy” anymore and he’s being overlooked quite a bit.
If Hunter Greene had gone to college, he would have been a draft eligible junior in the 2021 draft. Here’s what his scouting report would have looked like, had their been a season played this year:
Fastball | Works 96-100 and touches 102 MPH. It’s been a bit straight, but the velocity is elite. He’s also tinkered a bit with a 2-seamer.
Slider | A pitch that flashes plus that works in the low-to-mid 80’s.
Change Up | A potential average pitch that is still a bit inconsistent.
Cutter | A new pitch that works in the upper 80’s to low 90’s.
Other | He’s already had Tommy John surgery, which does work against him. But he’s also rebuilt his mechanics as he’s returned. Elite athlete. Should have good control in the future with a chance to have command of multiple pitches.
If that guy were available in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft he’d have gone incredibly high. But this just feels more like the “shiny new toy” situation where Greene is being underrated because he’s been around a bit and we’ve been able to focus more so on what he hasn’t done – pitch in front of people – for two years now. Part of that is due to the injury, but part of that was entirely out of his control, too. He pitched this year and the scouting report by-and-large is like the one he had coming out of high school and was considered an easy choice as a Top 50 prospect.