CINCINNATI -- It’s widely accepted that the most difficult thing to do in sports is hit a baseball.
What’s the hardest thing for a baseball franchise to do? Develop a high school pitcher into a big league pitcher.
Which brings us to Hunter Greene. The kid with the $7 million arm visited Great American Ball Park for the first time Saturday. Greene, the second pick overall in June, has all the pedigree to make it. He throws 102 mph. He’s smart, mature and driven. He’s athletic. He’s 6-foot-4, 197 pounds.
But he’s 18 years old. He’s one of the most touted prospects in years -- a Sports Illustrated cover boy -- but he’s remarkably grounded. He understands he’s not going to have an easy path to the big leagues.
“I’d say this year is a first step,” he said. “I still have a long road to go. A couple of years or whatever it is. I have a lot of work to do to be able play with these great athletes. It’s a process for sure.”
Greene spent a month with Billings in the Pioneer League. He pitched in a total of three games. He got lit up in one and was excellent in the other two. Coaches used him as the designated hitter while he worked his way back into pitching shape.
Every-day baseball, he admits, was an adjustment.
“I don’t think we had an off day for about 3.5 weeks,” he said. “Going through that -- the bus rides, understanding it’s a job and I have to stay healthy to perform at my best, to put my best foot on the field -- was a big step. But I enjoyed it.”
The Reds will be careful with Greene -- any team is careful with a $7 million investment.
“That’s the one thing with developing players, it takes time,” assistant general manager Nick Krall said. “High school kids or college kids, it takes time.”
Greene will go to the Instructional League to build on what he learned in Billings.
“My performance part, it would be working on secondary pitches and my fastball command -- and maintaining my health,” he said. “That’s the big thing I’m focusing on: to be able to go seven, eight innings, whatever the ball club wants me to do and come out of it feeling good.”
Health is the one factor no one can control, but it’s as important to pitching as talent.
Greene, because he was the second pick in the draft and because he got that big signing bonus, has to deal with more than the average high school kid breaking into pro ball.
“I think now, anymore, especially the high-profile pitchers, there's so many different vehicles now that are discussing baseball from the inception, from the inception of professional baseball, the pre-draft stuff, through the draft stuff, signing bonuses,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “Kids that are 17 or 18 years old that the baseball community already knows extremely well, that's way more than it was when I was playing.”
But being high-profile doesn’t exempt you from the learning curve.
“The other challenge is that this is a hard game to play well on a consistent basis,” Price said. “Those I think are most vulnerable are the younger people that still have so much life to live, so many lessons to learn in regards to adversity.
“This isn't speaking to Hunter, it's speaking to any young baseball player that's coming into their first season of professional baseball -- the challenges are even more significant than when you got to a junior college or a four-year school and then just segue your way through that experience back into that discussion of pro ball and getting drafted.”
But, so far, so good with Greene.
Assistant general manager Nick Krall said Greene has had a small introduction to pro ball.
“He’s been a solid player -- elite actually. Some kids get it and take off. Some kids it takes every year, every level to get here,” Krall said.
Krall pointed to Homer Bailey as an example of a player who took the fast track to the big leagues. Bailey made it to the Reds after three seasons in the minors.
That would put Greene in big league baseball in 2020. The Reds would love that. This visit was a chance to get a taste of the city -- literally.
“It’s a crash course,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been awesome, checking out everything that’s here, being able to go down to the city and take in Oktoberfest and take in the culture was really cool. The great food. I had a couple bratwursts. I had a cream puff, too. That was awesome.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com.