Royals add former Cardinals prospect Conner Greene, DFA Burch Smith

After some relatively slow weeks around baseball to start the offseason, things have started to pick up on this Monday in the early afternoon. Trade rumors are swirling, the Braves added two big free agents in Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, and the Royals made their second move the offseason, adding former Cardinals prospect Conner Greene to their 40-man.

Knocking last year’s Rule 5 selection Burch Smith into DFA status, the Royals liked what was available in Greene (DFA’d by the Cardinals last week). To start out in simple terms, Greene is FAR from a finished project. His prospect status in itself can probably be best defined by the term “project.” Basically, he’s your standard arm that can hit upper-90s consistently but has yet to put up the results you’d like to see. FanGraphs recently posted their Cardinals prospect list, ranking Greene #31 in their organization. Here’s what they had to say.

For a 25-start stretch across 2014 and 2015, Greene threw strikes. Outside of that, he has posted an 11% walk rate, largely due to release variance that also tips his curveball. Greee’s stuff is good. He has a viable four-pitch mix, including a nasty, tilting slider. This mix gives him a chance to yield multi-inning value and perhaps even start if his control comes late, so Greene is ahead of the single-inning relief prospects on this list. One of two pitchers acquired from Toronto in exchange for Randal Grichuk, Greene is on the St. Louis 40-man and we’ll likely see him in the big leagues at some point next year despite his clear volatility.

I can’t sit here and tell you I know everything about Greene, but I was able to build up enough of an idea regarding his variance, watching his two starts against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals this year.

  • 4/26/18: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO
  • 5/1/18: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO

The overall lines may seem similar, but his inconsistencies were shown. The first game against the Naturals, he was throwing strikes at a 60 percent clip. In the next start, he was at 70 percent. I also caught a little bit of him in relief against the Storm Chasers, where in three straight appearances against them he went for 3.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO at a 50 percent strike-rate.

In a bigger view, Greene was a former prep arm picked up in the seventh round of the 2013 draft by the Blue Jays. He struggled early in his professional career, but busted onto the scene in 2015 when he posted a 3.88 ERA and 3.22 FIP in Low-A and a 2.25 ERA, a 2.34 FIP in High-A, and a 4.68 ERA and 4.15 FIP in double-A all totaling up to 26 starts. This quickly led to him popping up on some top 100 lists, but that would all be short-lived after an injury-riddled 2016 season. He pitched all of 2017 at the double-A level, posting a 5.29 ERA with an ugly 1.5 percent K-BB%. Subsequently, he was dealt to the Cardinals the following offseason along with Dominic Leone in a deal that sent Randal Grichuk to Toronto.

Greene started the 2018 season out in double-A, where he looked slightly better in 11 appearances (48.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 32 SO, 24 BB). He finished the season up in Triple-A, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. That wouldn’t seem to help his struggles though, as in 29 appearances he walked more batters than he struck out. Fifteeen walks in 9.2 Fall League innings would be the final straw for him in the Cardinals organization.

As I mentioned above, Greene, at the moment, is basically a project and nothing else. Using data from the 2018 page on THE BOARD, I found that only six pitching prospects match the fastball and changeup grades of Greene.

Name Pos Tm Age FB CH CMD
Sixto Sanchez RHP PHI 20.3 70/70 55/65 45/55
Forrest Whitley RHP HOU 21.2 70/70 55/60 45/55
Alex Reyes RHP STL 24.2 70/70 55/60 40/50
Conner Greene RHP STL 23.6 70/70 55/60 40/45
Zack Burdi RHP CHW 23.7 80/80 55/60 40/45
Ty Buttrey RHP LAA 25.6 70/70 60/60 40/40

The fastball sits mid-90s, but can be rung up towards triple digits. Coming from a high release point, it generates incredible movement to pair. Control issues here though.

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The changeup grades out well overall, though is inconsistent. It falls off a table, as he almost throws it with a spiking motion coming from an extremely over-the-top arm slot.

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Greene will take a ton of refining, but some of the pieces are already there. Something will need to change, because those control issues will not play in the big leagues at all. Issues with locating his repertoire that increased this season look like they’ll keep him out of a starting role. The best hope here is that something is adjusted, he at least manages the walks to some extent, and he can became a serviceable setup man. Good lottery ticket pickup by the Royals.

Photo Credits: Reinhold Matay—USA Today Sports

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