Is Hunter Greene the best RHP in history?
Hunter Greene could make history on June 12. No high school right-hander has ever gone No. 1 overall in 52 years of baseball Drafts, and MLBPipeline.com’s top-rated 2017 Draft prospect will be very enticing when the Twins exercise the first selection.
A two-way star at Notre Dame High (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) — which also produced Giancarlo Stanton and the top choice in 1968, Tim Foli — Greene would be a mid-first-round pick as a power-hitting infielder. He’s even more impressive on the mound, where he has worked in the mid-90s all spring and hit 102 mph without having to exert himself. Greene’s secondary pitches are more of a work in progress, but scouts love his athleticism and makeup and the fact that he’s still just 17.
Last week, Greene became just the second prep pitcher to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with the magazine proclaiming “Hunter Greene Is The Star Baseball Needs.” There’s no question that he’s the best high school right-hander in this Draft.
Is Greene the best ever?
Not quite. The majority of veteran scouts contacted for this story cited Josh Beckett as the most talented high school righty they’ve ever seen.
Beckett was so good that there was talk that he could have been the No. 1 pick in the 1998 Draft — when he was a junior at Spring High (Texas). He regularly threw in the mid-90s in an era where radar guns read significantly lower than they do these days, his curveball was equally devastating and his competitiveness was off the charts. Beckett didn’t go No. 1 as a senior in 1999 because the Rays opted for the wondrously talented Josh Hamilton in a close decision, but Beckett landed a $7 million big league contract (a record guarantee for a high schooler) from the Marlins at No. 2.
“No question, Beckett is the first guy who comes to mind,” a scouting official with an American League club said. “Hunter is certainly talented, but putting it in perspective, Beckett was better than him at the same stage. Now Beckett was older and Hunter is younger, he’s 17. But at Draft time, when you have to make a decision, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t take Beckett over Greene. Beckett had better stuff and was a better pitcher. This guy doesn’t have a real breaking ball, and Beckett had a good breaking ball.”
That’s the biggest quibble with Greene, that he has yet to demonstrate consistent feel for spin. Some scouts rate his curveball as well below average and think he’ll have to scrap it in favor of a slider, while others grade both offerings as fringy, but with the potential to become plus.
A National League scouting director who’s more optimistic about his breaking pitches says an argument can be made for Greene.
“You could say Greene’s at the top of that list,” the director said. “Beckett and some of those other guys were not as athletic as he is. He’s a very good infielder, too. He’s only 17 years old and not done filling out. Not many guys go to the pitcher’s mound who are this athletic. He has a quick arm and he does it easy. I’d take Greene over Beckett, and I was a big Josh Beckett guy.”
Compared to prep right-handers from this decade, Greene has much better command than Riley Pint (No. 4 overall, 2016, Rockies), much more athleticism than Tyler Kolek (No. 2, 2014, Marlins) and Lucas Giolito(No. 16, 2012, Nationals) and a better delivery than Pint or Dylan Bundy (No. 4, 2011, Orioles). Some scouts will counter that Pint threw just as hard and had much better secondary pitches, and that Bundy was the most polished high school arm they’ve ever seen.
There isn’t a righty from the 2000s who gets much support as the best ever. Matt Harrington might have gone No. 1 overall in 2000 if ability had trumped signability, but he failed to sign with the Rockies after dropping to No. 7 and never played organized ball despite getting drafted five times. Though Rick Porcello(No. 27, 2007, Tigers) eclipsed Beckett’s guarantee with a $7,000,519 big league deal, he wasn’t in the same class.
In the 1990s, Texas claimed not one, but two righties in the best-ever discussion. Grand Prairie High’s Kerry Wood had a mid-90s fastball with tremendous life and a curveball that some scouts call the best ever in the high school ranks. Three years after the Cubs took him at No. 4 in 1995, he used both pitches to strike out 20 in his fifth Major League start.
“Kerry Wood was really close to Josh,” a second AL scouting executive said. “That curveball, it was ridiculous. Beckett and Kerry Wood really helped perpetuate that Texas mystique.”
Multiple scouts cited a pair of 1980s standouts as candidates for the best of all time. Mike Mussina was extremely advanced for a prepster and paired a quality fastball with an unhittable knuckle-curve, but he wanted to nearly double the existing bonus record to give up a Stanford scholarship and thus fell all the way to the Orioles in the 11th round and didn’t sign. Dwight Gooden (1982, Mets, No. 5) had even better pure stuff and made an almost immediate impact in New York, though he was the second high school righty taken in his Draft, two picks after the Padres popped yet another fireballing Texan in Jimmy Jones.
Going back even further, Bill Gullickson was the strong favorite to go No. 1 overall in 1977 before the White Sox opted for Harold Baines in part because he signed for a record-low $32,500. The Expos gladly snapped up Gullickson at No. 2. The most imposing high school righty ever might have been J.R. Richard (No. 2, 1969, Astros), who was 6-foot-8 and owned a legendary fastball.
There’s no disputing the most precocious prep right-hander. The Indians signed Bob Feller as a 16-year-old in 1935 and he struck out 15 in his first big league start in 1936 before returning to high school for his senior year.
Most of these highly regarded righties had fine big league careers, including Feller reaching the Hall of Fame, Mussina establishing Cooperstown credentials as well, Gooden and Porcello winning Cy Young Awards and Beckett starring on two World Series championship clubs. That’s fine company to keep for Greene, who may not be the best ever, but might have the most electric arm and generate premium velocity the most easily of the group.
“Greene is certainly in the top 10 and probably near the top, but Beckett with his stuff and delivery and size at that age probably was the best one,” a third AL scouting official said. “Greene is just pure athleticism and throws 100, and he’s probably got a little more upside to this deal because he hasn’t committed full-time to pitching yet.”