Remembering 2014: Greene’s Day
In our final installment of “Remembering 2014” this week, we re-visit the record-breaking season Revolution outfielder Justin Greene enjoyed, leading up to York’s fourth playoff appearance in five seasons, and their fifth in eight seasons of existence. As he became the first Rev to win the Atlantic League batting title, Greene also set the single-season franchise average record. Now that we’re done reminiscing about last season, next up: The first player acquisition announcements for the 2015 season on Friday!
By Paul Braverman
When a player hits .358, any “slumps” are swallowed up in a season full of two and three-hit nights and are awfully hard to find. For 2014 Atlantic League batting champion and York Revolution MVP Justin Greene, one slow start may have resulted in his career being taken off the fast track to the big leagues with the Arizona Diamondbacks, shifting to an unforgettable and record breaking summer detour in Central Pennsylvania.
Greene batted .308 a season ago for the Double-A Mobile BayBears in the Southern League, and it appeared Arizona had struck gold in finding a prospect at the tail end of 2013 spring training. The Chicago White Sox, who drafted Greene in the 20th round in 2008, dealt the speedy outfielder to the Dbacks with a week left in camp for cash considerations. Though he had time at Triple-A Charlotte in 2011 and 2012 with the White Sox, Greene had predominately been a .260-.280 hitter above Class A. Then came the breakout year at Mobile.
Greene’s batting title this year is actually his second consecutive. .308, while obviously a great season, was good enough for the Southern League batting crown in 2013. It’s a league notoriously tough on batters however, making Greene’s average historically in-line with past SL batting leaders.
“The Southern League is arguably the toughest minor league to hit in,” says Greene. “You’ve got top pitching prospects. You’ve got the thick southern air. You’ve got big stadiums and the travel’s not ideal. I was fortunate to be at the top of the list at the end of the year. Day in and day out it’s 90-plus with 100% humidity so you have to take care of your body, make sure you eat right and get enough sleep.”
After playing for Mobile’s in-state rival Birmingham before the trade for three seasons (2010-2012), Greene certainly learned how to navigate the challenges of the Southern League, and professional baseball in general. At 28 and heading into spring training last February, there was little doubt Greene was eyeing the next step and his Major League debut. Then he was re-assigned to Mobile despite being the circuit’s top hitter a year before, and batted .174 in his first 30 games to start this season. Greene was released, and despite the numbers it was still a head scratcher. Typically a guy coming off a batting title under 30-years-old would be given more time, and a slow start would be taken with a (large) grain of salt.
“I was a little surprised, because they understood what I could do as a baseball player,” said Greene. “I was in an organization that had a lot of depth in the minor leagues. There came a point where it didn’t matter how I did, there were certain guys that they wanted to give a chance, which is fine, it’s part of the game. It did hurt a little bit that I didn’t get another chance at a higher level, but that’s just baseball,” he continued.
Greene’s positivity in lieu of bitterness is what helped enable his gaudy statistics in York once he re-started his season in the Atlantic League, after signing with the Revolution on May 23. Greene was chosen by Manager Mark Mason over a Major League veteran with a recognizable name, who signed elsewhere in the league. Mason’s intuition was correct; Greene breezed past the previous Revolution single-season batting record (.339 by Ramon Castro in 2010) and finished just shy of the Atlantic League record of .371.
While the Atlantic League is a veteran league, Greene’s season has demonstrated how important it is to find players still on the way up, rather than be romanced by a headline-grabbing name of an MLB veteran who has plateaued. Greene’s answer to whether he keeps track of stats was refreshing.
“It’s definitely important. Any time you have a chance to add to your resume in your career, it’s important. I’d be lying to say I don’t look at it off the field, I’m aware of the numbers. It’s definitely an honor to break the York record, and be up there in the league records. I was aware of the numbers, but it can’t change the way you prepare for the game,” said Greene.
The seven-year pro isn’t merely a singles-hitting leadoff man however. While slugging close to .500 this season (.428 OBP, .927 OPS), Greene has displayed sneaky power. Yes, there were six home runs, including a stretch from June 28 to July 2 when he slugged three to leadoff the game in a five-game span, but Greene is usually setting the table with gap double power for Atlantic League RBI leaders Chad Tracy and Eric Patterson. Simply put, when he hits, the Revs hit. Greene had four total leadoff homers in the first inning this season, which is also a new club record.
He’s no slouch on defense either. Keeping would-be doubles as singles with laser beams from right field get lost in highlight reels, but full-extension diving catches do not. Neither to performances such as June 7 at home against Sugar Land, where Greene not only threw out a runner at home, but also at first, on a force play after charging an assumed base hit in right.
With each personal highlight in the field or at the plate, the common refrain of “what is he still doing here?” murmurs throughout the seating bowl and press box. It’s very rare for a player to begin the season in Double or Triple-A, come to the Atlantic League, and then end the season in Double or Triple-A. But as you would expect, some of the 28 MLB organizations Justin Greene hasn’t played for yet are showing interest; the Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates chief amongst them. There’s a good chance Greene could be in spring training with either, but that possibility doesn’t mean he’ll be taking his foot off the gas as tries to help deliver York’s third Atlantic League Championship. Greene understood very early in his career that any time you’re on the field, you’re being evaluated, and everyone’s looking for good ballplayers.
“I was told at a young age in my career that ‘every day you’re trying out for 30 Major League teams.’ That’s whether you’re playing for York, or in the minor leagues for the White Sox or Diamondbacks. Every day you’re trying out for 30 organizations,” said Greene. “I keep that in mind when I prepare for the game and when I play the game. There are a few teams that have shown interest for next year, but nothing more than a phone call or somebody coming to see me play right now. I just try to leave anyone who might be watching with the idea that ‘Justin Greene is someone that we could work with.’
Greene’s has the confidence and swagger that doesn’t cross the line into being unprofessional. Despite some professional setbacks, he respects where his career is and is still excited about where it may end up.
“The guys that flourish in this league can definitely make a name for themselves in the big leagues. Talent wise, this league is second to none, after competing in Double-A and Triple-A,” says Greene.
The next former Rev to reach Major League Baseball will be the 10th in franchise history to do so. By this time next year, the Rays, Pirates or another club might have the Diamondbacks and White Sox “seeing Greene” over their decision to part ways with a certain outfielder.