Think back to a year ago. After a full-on fire sale that saw the Cincinnati Reds move on from Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, Nicholas Castellanos, and Sonny Gray, the team was fully committed to a future built on the back of high-end prospects. Prospects like Hunter Greene.
While the pitching staff was headlined by Luis Castillo, who was later traded, it was the youngsters that gave Reds fans reason for hope. Both Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft appear to have bright futures, but it’s Greene who captured the attention of the baseball world.
When looking at his skill set, it is easy to see why. Capable of throwing his fastball at 100 mph with ease, it is never surprising to see him reach 101 or 102.
After a strong spring, Greene used his sizzling fastball to earn a spot on the team’s opening-day starting rotation. In his first start, he would face off with the defending world champions, the Atlanta Braves. While he would surrender three runs, he earned the win on the back of seven strikeouts across five innings.
In just his second major league start, Greene broke the record for most 100+ mph pitches in a single game with a whopping 39. While he was still learning the ropes, he cemented himself as one of the game’s most exciting young pitchers.
The rest of 2022 would be much of the same. Greene would finish with an ERA of 4.44 to go along with 164 strikeouts. With an 11.7 K/9, it is clear that Greene has the stuff to succeed in the big leagues. However, the home run ball has continued to bite him this spring.
Alas, change may be on the horizon.
Numbers Don’t Lie
By far the biggest weakness in Greene’s game is the home run ball. Despite the fact that he throws as hard as anyone in the game, MLB hitters are the best in the world at what they do. As such, if they know what is coming, they will hit it, regardless of velocity. This led to a staggering 28 home runs allowed for Hunter Greene in 2022.
So, when he wasn’t striking pitchers out with his supersonic heater, it was getting hit hard. In fact, his fastball was responsible for -7.0 runs above average despite being his trademark pitch.
Last season, Greene was essentially a two-pitch pitcher. Alongside the aforementioned fastball, he also throws a quality slider. In 2022, he threw the fastball 54% of the time, and the slider 41%. The other five percent, he threw a change-up. It is this pitch that will define his 2023 season.
Changing It Up
This spring, through two starts, things have not been kind to the right-hander. With 4.1 innings under his belt, Greene has had five runs charged to him, including a home run.
However, for those paying attention, the story is not about the runs Greene has allowed, but instead about his increased change-up usage. In his last start against the A’s, 12 of his 50 pitches were change-ups. After barely throwing it last season, he threw it on nearly half of his pitches.
Of course, it is only spring training, and it’s likely he was throwing it an increased amount in order to get a feel for it. However, Greene appears determined to make it an increased part of his repertoire going forward.
Greene said, “I obviously spent a lot of time working on that. It was my main focus, to have that pitch in my repertoire going into this year is going to be really exciting.” If he can work the change-up going forward, it will be crucial to his ability to keep hitters off balance.
Big Things Ahead for Hunter Greene
While people have certainly not forgotten about Greene, the hype train appears to have slowed down. When looking at the numbers, it is understandable. After all, no one cares how hard you can throw if it gets hit back even harder.
Still, despite playing in the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ballpark, Greene is an absurdly talented pitcher who is still improving. With 24 starts under his belt, he is no longer concerned with making the team. Instead, he is working to amplify his pitch mix that already features one of the league’s most electric fastballs.
The Cincinnati Reds will be a bad team in 2023, that much is almost assured. However, Hunter Greene will be appointment television as he cements himself as one of the best young players in the sport.