Green in great situation as Draft nears
Shortstop has chance to be prize selection in thin class
If the saying is true that timing is everything in life, then the timing just might be perfect for Southern California shortstop Grant Green.
After getting off to an excruciatingly slow start in 2009, the 21-year-old Anaheim native heated up big-time when it counted. And as no less a Draft expert than MLB.com's own Jonathan Mayo so aptly put it, "While in other walks of life, the first impression is the most important, the last impression in Draft season can have the most impact."
Add to that the fact that there may be no better time to be a polished five-tool college product than this year, when the crop of college position players is the thinnest it's been in recent memory, and Green's Draft prospects start looking better and better.
"The best thing to be right now is a college position player because there will be people who want to take that guy, no matter what," said Eddie Bane, the director of amateur scouting for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
His theory on why there is so little depth in that department?
"We just did a great job of signing the top high school kids a few years ago so there wasn't much left to choose from."
Not that scouts overlooked Green then. He was a 14th-round pick by San Diego in 2006, but opted to head an hour north from his hometown of Anaheim to Los Angeles to play his college ball for the Trojans.
Coming into the current college season, the 21-year-old Anaheim native was the top-rated hitter in the class, with impressive credentials.
In 2007 he became USC's first true freshman to start at shortstop in almost a decade, earning Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year honors, hitting .316 and finishing the season with a streak of 17 errorless games.
As a sophomore, Green batted .390 with nine homers, 46 RBIs and 10 steals to go with a .644 slugging percentage and wound up the season with an errorless streak of 29 games as he earned All Pac-10 accolades.
Green followed up that season by dominating in the Cape Cod League, hitting .348 with six homers and 21 RBIs for the Chatham A's and earning the league's Most Outstanding Pro Prospect award, which in the past had gone to such future stars as Mark Teixeira, Billy Wagner, Robin Ventura and Ron Darling.
Small wonder that most assumed he'd be among the first few players taken in the 2009 Draft and the cream of the crop when it came to hitters.
But Green got off to a start that could only kindly be called slow. In his first 13 games he batted just .234 and struggled on both sides of the field.
Some pundits called it "Draftitis." They recognized the syndrome, and had seen it before in some players who have gone on to have pretty nice big league careers.
"There are guys like Ryan Howard and Johnny Damon, who once they got to that 'finishing tape' as college juniors or high school seniors became so consumed with the Draft that their game took a bit of a hit," said one National League scout. "They take the proverbial test and struggle with it but once they get past it they're fine. I think he falls into this category."
And while the stumble may have been exacerbated by a few minor injuries, Green himself admits that it was more psychological than physical.
"I was putting too much pressure on myself, trying to do too much," admits Green, who still finished the season with a team-high .374 average in 54 games, hardly the stuff No. 8 hitters are made of. "At first I didn't trust the people hitting behind me and so I was trying to get the big hit every single time up instead of doing what I do best, getting on base, stealing a couple of bags and trusting the people coming up behind me."
Green's Draft stock subsequently dropped, especially with those whose only exposure to him had been over the first part of 2009.
But Green turned it around, bit by bit, including a tear after that unlucky 13 games to start in which he batted .526 in his next 14 games. He batted .389 in May and he went hitless just five times in his final 40 games after taking 0-fers four times in his first 13.
Consultation and conversation with his head coach, 17-year Major League veteran Chad Kreuter, and coach Tom House helped Green turn things around.
"They reiterated the fact that doing too much was only going to hurt me, and when I started trusting them I started hitting again and my average started to climb," said Green, who finished the year with a team-high 19 doubles and 16 steals. "Our offense was really down and so I felt as the veteran I had to do more than I needed to."
Green's power numbers dipped from nine homers in 2008 to just four in '09, but power has never been his game. Though he is viewed as that rare five-tool middle infielder, power for a shortstop is not the same as power for a corner infielder or outfielder.
His overall game is highlighted by a live bat, speed and impressive defensive potential, with a solid glove, good range, accurate arm and soft hands. In his first two college campaigns he'd drawn comparisons to another pair of former Southern California-based shortstops -- Long Beach State duo Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria.
The speed is still there. The grace in the field, the strong arm, soft hands and fluid motions are all present and accounted for. Yet Green struggled on defense overall, finishing the season with 18 errors.
When asked what he thinks led to the error total, he mans up to an early lack of extra effort, something he made up for in the second half of the season.
"It was about not doing what I needed to do during practice," said Green. "I wasn't taking as many ground balls as I should have been, and I needed to be taking more at game speed. I was thinking since it was my last season I'd be fine, but that didn't work for me. So I started taking everything in practice like it was in a game and it started carrying over. My fielding percentage came up and I felt more comfortable. "
Knowing that baseball, and especially the pro game, is a never-ending series of ups and downs, Green thinks he will call upon many of the lessons he learned this spring in the future.
"This is the first time I've ever really failed in the college game at the beginning of a season and now I realize that even if you start slow, if you finish on a good note you can still have a successful season," he said. "And talking to my coaches, I've gotten a better understanding of the game, a higher 'baseball IQ.'"
He's also learned to temper his emotional game.
"I had a bad problem in high school of taking my at-bats into the field and vice versa," said Green. "I worked with Coach Kreuter a lot on staying on an even keel the whole game, and just worrying about the one pitch, the one moment. I think that is the one thing I've learned here that's helped me the most."
So now, with the Trojans' regular season complete and no postseason plans, Green waits for June 9 to roll around, when he'll find out just where his future lies.
Now it comes down to whether teams look at the big final picture or the snapshots they may have gotten along the way. The big picture on Grant Green would seem to show that there is a lot more to like than to worry about.
The scouting fraternity is also intrigued to find out what will happen, though most prognosticators still expect his name to be called early.
"There are guys out there who have never seen Grant do much of anything," said one AL scout. "But he's performed for some, and someone is going to pay a huge price for him."
Not that once he's drafted he'll be heading off to get his pro career started right away. One more little fillip to Green's situation is the fact that his adviser/agent is none other than Scott Boras, whose name is anything but synonymous with "sign quickly and start playing."
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11, on MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on June 9, noon on June 10 and 11:30 a.m. on June 11.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.