With 80% of the Bombers’ Opening Day rotation now on the disabled list, Brian Cashman has had to get creative in finding arms to surround last man standing Hiroki Kuroda. His most recent addition is rookie Shane Greene, a guy who came up for one forgotten relief appearance in April and has even less name recognition outside of Yankees circles than Vidal Nuno and David Phelps (if that’s possible.) However, Greene surprised the league with two strong starts against the Indians and division-leading Orioles just before the All-Star break.
Plenty of Yankee pitchers have had surprisingly strong starts to their careers in the past few years before faltering after a few games. Nuno gave up only five runs in 20 innings in 2013, but struggled in the rotation this year with a 5.42 ERA before being shipped to Arizona for Brandon McCarthy. Nuno’s poor performance was in no small part due to the fifteen home runs he gave up, averaging out to about 1.6 home runs for every nine innings he threw. Through his first seven starts, Chase Whitley put up a 2.56 ERA with particularly dominant back-to-back outings against the Royals and Mariners in early June. Since June 18th, Whitley hasn’t won a game or even lasted longer than four innings and was demoted to the bullpen for a time.
However, Greene’s effectiveness has a good chance to carry on a bit longer. Ranked the sixteenth best prospect in the Yankees system by Baseball America before this season, Greene, 25, had his first professional success last year after adjusting his mechanics and changing his mental approach on the mound, according to BA. Greene’s two-seam fastball has consistently ranged from 94-95 miles per hour and has good arm-side run, along with some sink. He throws it most often out of any of his pitches, and for good reason—its velocity makes it one of the hardest two-seamers in the game, harder than those of All-Stars Henderson Alvarez of the Marlins, Johnny Cueto of the Reds, and Chris Sale of the White Sox. He also locates it well, most often throwing it down and in to righties. As a result, he’s induced plenty of ground balls.
Greene’s best pitch, however, is his slider. Sitting in the low eighties, the pitch’s calling card is its nasty movement. According to Baseball Prospectus’s PITCHf/x leaderboards, it has the fourth-best movement among all sliders this season. Perhaps the key to this pitch is its usage. He doesn’t rely too heavily on the slider in any particular count, choosing to throw it about a quarter of the time in any situation—one strike, two strikes, ahead of the batter, behind the batter, etc. This keeps hitters off-balance and adds to the deception that is already built in with Greene’s inherently deceptive pitching motion.
Greene also features a change-up, but his third-most used pitch is the cutter, which he throws in the high eighties. He most often uses it when ahead in the count against left handed batters, as it moves in towards them—just as his two-seam fastball does to righties. Greene’s control isn’t too bad either, as he’s thrown 62% of pitches for strikes and has only walked a total of two men in his first two starts. Greene possesses a combination of skills- good stuff, decent command, and deception- that could allow him to become a solid to above-average pitcher.
Greene almost didn’t become a Major Leaguer. After missing his entire sophomore season of college with Tommy John surgery in 2008, the Florida native asked a Yankees scout to watch him throw a bullpen session in 2009, even though the scout was at the game to see another player. The scout liked him enough to draft him in the fifteenth round of the 2009 draft. After four relatively unsuccessful seasons in the low minor leagues, Greene took a huge step forward at High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2013. The Yankees must be thrilled with Greene’s suddenly quick development—just in time to fill the injured Masahiro Tanaka’s spot in the rotation. Although only two Major League starts is a small sample size, Greene looks to have the stuff that will let him stick around in pinstripes for a while longer.