I don’t tend to write critically about Blue Jays prospects – I will be the first to admit that. I prefer to state my opinion about their tools, the strengths, and their weaknesses, and let you the reader form yours.
It was during a conversation with Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim that I came to understand that there was a sixth tool that we as fans often overlook, but baseball insiders are keenly aware of: the intangible quality called make up. Kim even called it the sixth tool. Subsequent conversations with Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders and High Performance Director Angus Mugford confirmed the importance of what the dictionary calls, “the combination of qualities that form a person’s temperament.” As Mugford pointed out, skills-wise, there is not to distinguish a lot of minor league players from one another. Make up, more often than not, seems to be the determining factor. Those who have it tend to reach the top far more often than those who don’t.
Which brings us to Conner Greene.
Greene was a gem uncovered by the previous administration, one of those high risk/high reward prospects former Scouting Director Blake Parker, under the direction of noted dice-roller Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays coveted. Baseball America‘s draft report:
Long and lean at 6-foot-3, 160 pounds, Greene is all about projection. He has a high waist, long legs and a quick arm, and he has cleaned up his delivery, helping him touch 91-92 mph on occasion. He usually pitches at 87-88, and his secondary stuff is underdeveloped. He throws a splitter rather than a changeup, and the pitch has sink but is inconsistent. His curve has 11-to-5 break, and his best ones rate as 40s on the 20-80 scouting scale. He needs to sharpen it up and improve his command of his entire repertoire.
Greene committed to the legendary JC of Southern Nevada, but a $100K bonus offered by the Blue Jays, who had taken him in the 7th round, helped him change his mind. Greene had a rocky pro debut in 2013, and repeated the Gulf Coast League the following year, but his career took off when he was promoted to full season Lansing in 2015, after which he was ranked the Blue Jays 2nd prospect by BA. Discovered by the Toronto media last spring, Greene stumbled in his second go at AA this year, despite the fact that he dialed up his fastball to triple digits on occasion.
Much of Greene’s difficulties stemmed from his not being able to command that fastball this year. An 8% swinging strike rate indicates that he did not miss a lot of bats for someone with his heat, and a 43% pull rate reflects that he lived up in the zone (and was squared up) frequently. The silver lining has to be his 52% ground ball rate, which likely came off of weak contact against his curve or change up. His 13.6% BB rate, which was far and away the highest in the Eastern League, demonstrates that finding the strike zone was a challenge. Greene was pitching from behind for much of the summer, a high-wire act that few Pitchers can successfully walk.
Greene’s fastball, obviously, is the primary weapon in his arsenal. It does not have much movement, but when he commands it gives him a great margin for error. His change is still inconsistent at this point, but multiple evaluators have called it a potential above average pitch once he can throw it close to the strike zone consistently. His curve and slider have made tremendous strides, but both need to progress more if he is to turn a lineup over. They function more as an option to keep hitters honest at this point. Greene’s is an intriguing arm, but at this point he seems to be more of a thrower than a Pitcher.
To get back to the concerns about make up, reports about Greene suggest that his levels of grit and resilience may not be the highest, and his troubles this season may have come from an inability to make necessary adjustments. Whether that was mechanical or attidutinal is up for speculation, but it was a frustrating season for Greene (who sometimes seemed to let his emotions get the better of him during games), and many who were watching him. This was Greene’s first extended taste of difficulty in pro ball. The question is will this experience help him grow, or will it keep him from doing so?
It’s hard to say where the Blue Jays go from here with Greene. Do they continue to let him develop as a starter next year in Buffalo, or do they convert him to relief, where his high velo coupled with his change could be a devastating late inning combination? Or, since he was a signing from a previous regime, do they view him as a long-term player, or do they include him in a package to help fill a need on the major league roster? One thing is for sure: Greene needs to be added to the 40-man by November 18th, or he will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft, where he won’t last long. The betting here is that he will be added; Pitchers who top 100 don’t come along every day. That Greene will eventually learn to harness his stuff and forge a big league career is not as sure.