November 8, 2015
One of the most impressive stories in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system this past season was the quick accession of right-handed pitcher Conner Greene. Initially slated to go through extended spring training, Greene shocked everybody by reaching it all the way to the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats by seasons end.
But how did he achieve this in such a short amount of time?
Simply put it was a combination of hard work and dedication on Greene’s part to climb the ladder to levels not usually seen by a player who is barely out of high school.
A major contributor to this success is the 20-year old’s ability to command all of his three pitches for strikes. Currently using a mix of a fastball, changeup, and a 12-6 curveball. Greene was happy with the production that he’s received from all of his pitches this season, as he was consistently working on tightening up his curveball.
“One of my major goals in 2015 was to improve my curveball,” explained Greene. “My curveball is already a good pitch. But I want it to be a great pitch.”
What really sets Greene apart from most young pitchers is his capability to command the changeup. Known as a pitch that’s vital for success at the major league level. It’s usually one that’s developed later in the process. Despite that concept, the righty already has tremendous feel for the pitch and that ability really impressed Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware throughout the early stages of the 2015 season.
“Conner Greene has a good arm,” stated Ware. “Conner has some major league ability. He’s young and still a little bit immature. But that’s understandable as he’s just out of high school. His secondary pitches are coming along. To see a really young guy have the feel for a changeup the way Conner does is a big step in the right direction. I really expect Conner to be in the big leagues one day.”
Putting these pitches to the test in Lansing, Greene was a key piece of the Lugnuts rotation for the majority of the season. Going 7-3 with a 3.88 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings pitched was all the organization needed to see to know the righty was ready for a bigger challenge.
Promoted to the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays in July, Greene was roughly three years younger than his competition. But the older players didn’t faze him, as the California native had his best numbers of the year at this level. With a season best ERA of 2.25 and an impressive 1.10 WHIP it was obvious that this wasn’t the challenge it was expected to be for the young pitcher.
A month later the organization moved the prospect up another level to the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Surely being placed in a league where he was roughly 4.6 years younger than the majority of his competition would slow him down.
While he didn’t enjoy the same success he did in Dunedin, Greene still held his own in the Eastern League. Going 3-1 with a 4.68 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched certainly wasn’t a bad way to wrap up his season.
Despite the success, Greene did have some command issues with tighter strike zones and more polished hitters that you’ll face in AA ball.
Walking 12 hitters and carrying a 1.48 WHIP wasn’t exactly how Greene drew it up. With that said, it was a very productive season for the right-hander who rose to number 8 on the Blue Jays prospect watch list on MLB.com.
Impressed by the progression that Greene has made since April. Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware feels that the prospects success comes from his mindset at approaching challenges as they’re placed in front of him.
“It’s great that Conner was able to move up so quickly,” said Ware. “This season was a really big challenge for him. He wasn’t expected to be with us to begin the season. But he was able to and he did a great job here. Then he went to Dunedin and did a great job there and then he got to finish up in AA and he’s had a bunch of good starts there as well. Conner is just one of those guys. Whatever challenge he takes on he rises up and he’s done a great job all season.”
Obviously Greene has a lot to be proud of from the success he found from the pitching mound in 2015. But one aspect that he has really enjoyed this past season was being teammates with fellow pitcher Alonzo Gonzalez in both Lansing and Dunedin. Both natives of Santa Monica, California the two were once high school teammates that have been reunited in the baseball circuit as members of the Blue Jays organization.
“Alonzo and I were always good friends growing up,” stated Greene. “I have an older brother that’s the same age as Alonzo, so he was always hanging around our house. We were on the same high school team when I was a freshman and he was a senior. Alonzo is a great mentor and a great buddy to have on the same team. It’s great to have that kind of connection with one of the guys in the clubhouse.”
The friendship doesn’t end in the clubhouse though, as the two like to workout together during the off-season. Finding it extremely helpful to have a friend that’s going through the exact same process that he is during the winter Greene admits that the two find numerous locations to put in some extra conditioning work.
“I live on the beach so I spend a lot of time in the water during the off-season,” said Greene. “We have a muscle beach where I do exercises with rings. It’s a little unconventional. But it’s good for the shoulders. I also do a lot of training with Alonzo during the off-season. We go to the gym three times a week. We also hit up any other places where we can get a workout in as well. Like at a YMCA, or other places similar to that kind of facility.”
Most likely returning to New Hampshire to begin his 2016 campaign. Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays should expect some more improvements from the prospect as he admits that he’ll never be satisfied until he reaches his dream of pitching at the Rogers Centre.
“It feels good knowing that my hard work is starting to pay off,” said Greene. “But I’ll never be completely satisfied until I reach the ultimate goal of pitching in the big leagues.”