Among the surprise stories in the 2014 Major League Baseball rookie class were a pair of New York Yankees right-handers, Shane Greene and Chase Whitley. Greene was more successful and we'll examine him first as part of our "sleepers who woke up" series.
Greene made 14 starts and one relief appearance for the Yankees this year, posting a 3.78 ERA, 3.73 FIP in 79 innings with a sharp 81/29 K/BB, 81 hits allowed, generating 1.2 fWAR. That's a solid debut, particularly for a guy who was completely anonymous two years ago.
The Yankees drafted Greene in the 15th round in 2009, from Daytona Beach Junior College in Florida. His college career began at the University of West Florida in 2008. He posted a 7.71 ERA in 28 innings as a freshman then blew out his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. He transferred to DBJC and did enough to impress the Yankees as a potential bargain as a $100,000 double-digit round pick. He posted a 5.87 ERA in 23 innings of rookie ball, giving up 30 hits although his K/BB was nice at 20/6.
Greene split 2010 between Staten Island in the New York-Penn League and Low-A Charleston in the South Atlantic League, posting a combined 4.59 ERA with a 66/29 K/BB in 70 innings, with 71 hits. He didn't stand out particularly with either the scouting or the stats. He spent all of '11 with Charleston, posting a similar 4.37 ERA, 5-11 record, and a 128/68 K/BB in 138 innings, 141 hits. Again, nothing special, although his strikeout rate was decent enough. At this point he was seen as an organization arm who may or may not develop into something more.
2012 wasn't much different; his ERA spiked to 5.22 for High-A Tampa in the pitching-friendly Florida State League, although the component ratios did not change much (101/63 K/BB in 112 innings, 113 hits). Still a decent strikeout rate, but too many walks and a hit-per-inning. There are a lot of guys who can do that in A-ball.
2013 was another matter. Greene posted a 3.60 ERA with a 69/10 K/BB in 75 innings for Tampa, then moved up to Double-A Trenton and posted a 3.18 ERA with a 68/20 K/BB in 79 innings. He gave up a lot of hits at Trenton, 92, but despite that he took a large step forward as a prospect. Mechanical adjustments dramatically improved his control, he made the 40-man roster, and there was good buzz about him in Yankees circles last fall and winter. I filed this report entering '14:
Greene was drafted in the 15th round in 2009 from Daytona Beach Community College. He’s received little notice as a prospect, but the Yankees added him to the 40-man roster over the winter so they obviously see things they like. He’s got a decent enough arm with a 90-94 MPH fastball; that’s the four-seamer, he also uses a two-seam sinker with slightly less velocity. He mixes in a slider and changeup and he usually throws strikes with everything, or at least he did last year; his command was troublesome earlier in his career but improved mechanics seem to have helped. He’s not overpowering and will give up some hits, but with a good defense behind him he could be a workable fifth starter or long reliever. Grade C.
Greene was hittable at Triple-A Scranton in the first half of 2014, posting a 4.61 ERA, 57/26 K/BB in 66 innings with 79 hits, but his FIP was much better at 3.40. As noted, he acquitted himself well in the second half for the Yankees.
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So, fluke or not?
Points to consider:
***The PITCHf/x data lines up with the pre-season scouting report fairly well, although with a little more velocity than expected: his four-seamer was clocked as high as 96 and averages 93, as opposed to the 90-94 MPH marks observed in the minors. The two-seamer ranges from 87 to 95, a hair higher on the upper end than expected.
***Pre-season reports said he had a slider and change-up; Brooks Baseball breaks the secondary pitches down as a slider, cutter, change, and a miniscule number of curves. I"d be very interested in the observations of Yankees watchers who saw him pitch regularly.
***Overall he may have thrown slightly harder than anticipated, but the obvious and key difference between Greene in 2013-2014 and 2009-2012 is dramatically better control. The Yankees picked up on this and were wise enough to protect him from Rule 5 last winter despite his uninspiring track record before '13.
***The pre-season assessment ("with a good defense behind him he could be a workable fifth starter or long reliever") still seems reasonable to me. I'd expect some regression, but I don't think he's a total fluke, either.
What do you think?