There's a very clear opening for Tyler Greene in 2012. The departure of Tony LaRussa, despite the re-signing of Skip Schumaker, appears to be have changed the evaluative environment. The latest writings of Derrick Goold go so far as to call Greene the "preferred candidate" to start at second base. It's a far cry from the player who has been an afterthought for the better part of the last two years.
For fans, Tyler Greene is, perhaps, difficult to get excited about. He's had many opportunities and has never fully realized the expectations for his potential. Tyler Greene suffers from prospect fatigue. When a player has been in the minor league system for an extended period of time, it becomes far easier to write them off as a non-MLB caliber player. They don't have to have a clear deficit -- though Greene surely does -- but rather by fact of having been in the minors for so long, they are labeled in that fashion.
Tyler Greene is getting one more chance to overcome that prospect fatigue. He's getting one more chance to be a starter in the majors. It's taken nearly seven years for him to get here.
Greene went to high school in Florida and, despite being a second round pick by the Atlanta Braves, proceeded to college. Drafted out of Georgia Tech in the 1st Round of the 2005 draft, the Cardinals took him two selections after Colby Rasmus (the only prospect that makes VEBers say dumber things than Anthony Reyes). If you want to flashback to his college days, Greene's player bio at GT is still live.
It may be a long time ago but even watching Greene now is a reminder as to why so many teams liked him in 2005. He was (and in many ways still is) a toolsy shortstop. Unsurprisingly, Greene played in the Cape Cod league, which is a favorite scouting ground of the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2004, he hit .296/.413/.424 in his second prominent venture with wood bats. The year prior to that, Greene had been a part of Team USA.
After being drafted in 2005, Greene logged 55 games split between the Cardinals short season A-ball club in the NY-Penn League and their High-A affiliate, Palm Beach. In his first eligible year of prospect ranking, he was was placed third behind Anthony Reyes and Colby Rasmus in the Cardinals system by Baseball America. At the time, they wrote:
The Cardinals regard him as a pure shortstop with a plus arm and good range. He's an impressive specimen with legs that look like a sprinter's, and an above-average runner who is an efficient basestealer. Greene's ultimate value will be determined by his bat. He tends to be streaky and needs to use his hands better. He gets erratic with his defensive footwork at times, leading to throwing errors. Greene has impressive tools to go wit great makeup and a willingness to learn, so he should move quickly if he hits.
It's a write-up that could have as easily been penned in 2011 as it was in 2005. That is one of the more perplexing aspects of Tyler Greene's growth. Clearly he has advanced through the system over the years. He reached Memphis in 2008 and has spent four seasons there performing in much the same way that he did his first season. A Tyler Greene season can be characterized by the following: lots of strikeouts, good power for a shortstop and a great SB/CS ratio. That's as true in 2011 as it was in 2005. Despite being the "same" player throughout his minor league career, he has not failed to raise his game to the level of his competition as he advances.
Take a look at his 2009 season, for instance. Greene spent 89 games in Memphis and hit .291/.369/.482 with 86 strikeouts in 388 PAs. He swiped 31 bases while being caught 3 times. Greene's speed has led to some wild BABIPs but, combined with his impressive power for a shortstop, it's not at all unexpected to see him perform above average in that category.
Some of what keeps the allure of Tyler Greene alive entering 2012 is what hasn't been said about him. He's been in the minors for seven years. He's been in Memphis for four of those seven. How many articles have you read about Greene's bad attitude? How many articles have you read about his unwillingness to learn or how difficult he is to coach? How many times has his character been impugned in the paper? He's a ripe target: an older player who still hasn't found success and tends toward the light-hearted side on the diamond. And while there have been suggestions that the pressured situation Tony LaRussa created was not beneficial to Greene's arrival in the majors -- see here and here -- Greene appears diligent in coming to camp ready to turn over a new leaf. From Joe Strauss's article:
"I've felt like I could play at this level. What's frustrating for me is there were times I'd slip into a funk and I didn't really get the chance to bounce back from it," Greene says. "I know myself. I know I can bounce back from something and be back where I've always been with my ability and my talent. I know you have to perform. But I also know that I can get to where I need to be. Sometimes not getting that chance was what was most frustrating to me."
Clearly, Greene is getting a chance now. And it makes sense why. With Skip Schumaker's offensive value receding from above average to lousy over the last two years, there's an opening. Rafael Furcal will be the starting shortstop but Greene's surprisingly excellent year in 2011 made some take notice.
Greene played just 66 games in Memphis accumulating 303 PAs. He struck out in bunches, 75 total, but also, with a high BABIP, hit for a .323/.422/.579 line including 14 home runs. It was, by far, his best season in Memphis; a full 150 points of OPS better than his 2009 performance.
Greene isn't out of the woods yet though. Despite an excellent 2011, statistical projections are still tepid on Greene. ZiPS considers him a lesser hitter than Daniel Descalso and roughly comparable to Skip Schumaker. While Greene's defense should easily outperform Schumaker, his baserunning might be the only tangible commodity he offers over Decalso.
It's been seven years for Tyler Greene to get from Georgia Tech to a (potential) starting second baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals. It is arguably the last shot he'll get at being a starting position player for a major league team. Fans may be tired of hearing about a player that hasn't "developed". Writers may be tired of penning articles on his potential and possibilities as a major league player. This spring training will likely put an end to all of that.
The question is: Will the next Tyler Greene article be about his success as the Cardinals second baseman or the end of the road for a once top prospect?
2012 is here. Baseball is coming. Soon we will know.