MLB Futures: Riley Greene Still Worth Betting For AL Rookie of the Year

MLB Futures: Riley Greene Still Worth Betting For AL Rookie of the Year article feature image

Duane Burleson/Getty Images. Pictured: Riley Greene

Yordan Alvarez made his major-league debut for the Houston Astros on June 9, 2019. He went 1-for-3 with his first career home run and also drew a walk.

From that day through the end of the season, Alvarez accumulated 369 plate appearances, hit .313/.412/.655 with 27 home runs, and earned all 30 first-place votes for American LeagueRookie of the Year.

Riley Greene made his major-league debut for the Detroit Tigers on June 18, 2022. He didn't homer, but he went 2-for-3 and drew a pair of walks. In 13 plate appearances across three games entering Tuesday, he has reached base eight times — including five via the walk.

Greene entered the season among the top choices for AL Rookie of the Year. He was behind Bobby Witt Jr., his teammate Spencer Torkelson, Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman on an odds board absolutely stacked with young talent.

It made sense, too. Greene was set to start the season with Torkelson in Detroit as the team's everyday center fielder. He was the No. 4 prospect in the game via Baseball America, No. 5 via MLB Pipeline, and No. 6 via Baseball Prospectus.

Then he broke his foot in spring training.

A lot has happened since then on that stacked odds board. Rodriguez has separated himself from the pack thanks to a solid .265/.326/.419 line, including eight home runs and a league-leading 18 stolen bases. Jeremy Pena — a little further down the board at the start of the season — started hot before getting hurt to cement himself as the No. 2 choice behind Rodriguez. Torkelson has faltered, and Rutschman's delayed start in Baltimore hasn't done him any favors.

Amid all the shifting around at the top, Greene's odds dropped — which makes sense since his debut was delayed by injury — all the way to the +4500 range where he currently sits at FanDuel.

The allusion to Alvarez at the top is because the obvious question with Greene is: can he accumulate enough plate appearances to make himself worthy of the award? FanGraphs currently projects him to finish with 300 plate appearances, which seems a bit conservative. He should be playing center every day for the Tigers going forward, pending health.

It's tricky, with the main reason being that Greene's competition is much thicker than the field Alvarez overcame three years ago. Alvarez finished that season with 3.7 bWAR. The only AL rookie who topped that was John Means at 4.5, but Means A) was a Baltimore Oriole, B) was a pitcher who only threw 155 innings with a minuscule Strikeout Rate, and C) was a Baltimore Oriole.

The next closest competitor from a WAR standpoint was Cavan Biggio, who had slightly fewer plate appearances, a paltry .234 batting average, and nowhere near the prodigious power.

Greene has to deal with Rodriguez, not to mention the conglomerate of other contenders who, while maybe started slow, still have time to accumulate the kind of counting stats over a full season that will diminish whatever Greene may do. There's also fellow injury-returnee Shane Baz to consider, too.

But +4500 is wild. Consider another late starter, Oneil Cruz of the Pirates. Cruz's season was delayed for service time manipulation reasons instead of injury, of course. But after debuting Monday, his NL Rookie of the Year odds sit at +700, which puts him fourth behind MacKenzie Gore, Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II. The NL race is much less convoluted, but if Cruz has a shot, Greene does, too.

If Greene is going to win AL Rookie of the Year, he essentially has to do what Alvarez did back in 2019, which is absolutely crush the competition for the next four months. That's certainly not out of the question, however, and at the +4500 range, it's worth a small investment to find out.

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