Fay: In 17-year-old Hunter Greene, Reds have more than a great player -- they have a great person

CINCINNATI -- Reds general manager Dick Williams had a strange fear for a guy holding the second pick in the draft.

"I spent the last couple of months worrying that we weren't picking high enough to get him," Williams said. "I'm really thrilled that we able to get him at No. 2."

Williams was referring to Hunter Greene, the 17-year-old pitching, fielding, hitting phenom that the Reds, indeed, got with the second pick in the draft after the Minnesota Twins took outfielder/shortstop Royce Lewis with the first.

Greene, the Sherman Oaks, California kid, has skills that are well-documented. He throws 102 mph, he's a smooth shortstop, and he hits 450-foot homer runs.

"The reports I read are like no other reports I've seen in my limited time in baseball, making some historic comparisons," Williams said. "That's not my job."

Williams' job is to judge a player's makeup -- character, intelligence, drive.

"What I saw in Hunter is a belief in himself," Williams said. "This may sound a little corny on a call like this, but his awareness of his place in the world. I was stuck by the maturity you all have seen. He's understands that being able to play baseball at this level is a gift. It's not something to be taken for granted. I was incredibly impressed by how he's leveraged that gift to share happiness with other people.

"He's going to be a tremendous baseball player, and he's going to be a tremendous person."

You often get this kind of happy talk right after a team has drafted a player, but, in this case, I'd have to agree with Williams.

Greene was as impressive as a 17-year-old could possibly be on this conference call with the Cincinnati media. He said all the right things. He showed that self-awareness when talking about his place in the game, his role as a big brother and the opportunity he's been given.

If being on the cover of Sports Illustrated inflated his ego, Greene did masterful job of hiding it. He credits his parents for the poise and polish.

"Definitely my parents teaching me at a young age just be level-headed no matter how much success I deal with or how much failure I go through," he said. "It's being the same person throughout the whole process," he said. "I think it's really helped with baseball. It's a failing sport. Going through ups and downs is part of the process and will be part of my career as well -- just being able to see the brighter side and knowing that I'm going to come out strong and on top. That's the great thing about baseball: There's always another day to succeed and do well. So I really look forward to doing that, and just being the same person throughout the process has really helped."

Greene was the best player in baseball-rich California by the time he was 15, but he had already been through a life-changing experience at that point. When he was 11, he spent most of two years sharing a hospital room with his sister, Libriti, while she battled leukemia.

"It was just a really difficult process to go through," Greene said. "I mean, lots of people go through it, and fortunately we were blessed. She's still with us, and she's doing really well. She's happy, and she gave me a great big hug after my name was announced. Just being there for her, being there when she was getting shots or getting her medicine and being supportive and being the best brother I could be at that point was something that was really important to myself and my family."

Baseball is also important to the Greenes. Greene grew up in suburban Sherman Oaks, but he was enrolled at the Urban Baseball Academy in Compton at 7.

"That just builds a great foundation and allowed me to become a major-league citizen, which is something a lot of young kids and athletes need to really take advantage of and have a great time doing," Greene said. "It's something I really want to help out. Anything I can do, go to ball clubs and go to little leagues and just talk to them and inspire them to be the greatest they can be is something I'd love to do."

Greene, again, says all the right things. However, you get a different side when he talks about his baseball persona.

"On the mound, I consider myself a monster," Greene said. "I'm a different person than off the baseball field. I pound the zone, I get ahead. I stare guys in the eyes. I just like the whole competitive edge and really competing the best that I can. At shortstop, showing my range and having smooth hands and footwork and firing across the diamond. Then hitting, just having good pitch selection and crushing balls and helping out the team at the plate, too. That's me."

The Reds, by the way, see Greene as a pitcher.

"I will say we think the elite talent is there both ways, but pitching will be the first focus, this summer in particular," Williams said. "We want to make sure he builds up some more innings and that will be the focus. While he's in process of building up innings, I think he can get at-bats. I don't think it's realistic to ask him to play the field, get at-bats and try to pitch, all this summer. We won't do that."

Greene, who committed to UCLA, has to sign with the Reds before he can start playing. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, signing have become almost routine.

"I am optimistic," Williams said. "I hope we get it done quickly."

Greene is leaving that to his representatives.

"I am excited to get out there," he said. "Obviously, I'm just a ball player and focusing on baseball. The whole negotiation part and signing and everything, I'm not a part of it. I am just excited to go out there as soon as possible, be able to meet the staff and the players and get the ball rolling and start something special."

The Reds certainly think Greene is something special. That's why Williams was worried about having to sweat out one pick before getting a chance to choose Greene.

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