Dave Winfield. Mark McGwire. Braden Shipley. Brody Greer?
It’s strange to see the Peninsula Oilers closer listed with those who solidified position changes in the Alaska Baseball League, and used those position changes to vault into the Hall of Fame (Winfield), hall of infamy (McGwire) or a selection in the first round of the 2013 draft (Shipley).
What’s stranger still is how it all came about for Greer.
In mid-May, Oilers general manager James Clark was lying in bed late at night watching SportsCenter.
In came a text message from Trey Richardson, who played for the Oilers in 2012 and had lived with Clark.
Richardson had a teammate at University of South Carolina Upstate that just had to be on the 2013 Oilers — could hit, field, throw, the whole deal.
Was Clark done with the roster?
Pretty much, Clark texted. What position?
We’re pretty much set in the infield, Clark texted. Send some stats and we’ll give him a look.
Clark said Richardson’s endorsement of Greer spoke volumes.
It also didn’t hurt Greer’s case that Clark’s 3-year-old daughter, Brie, had enjoyed playing with Richardson so much that she asked Clark all winter when Trey was coming back.
“Now I could tell her, ‘Trey’s not coming, but his friend is,’” Clark said. “Brody has been great. He’s picked up right where Trey left off.”
The statistics looked good enough to Oilers coach Kyle Richardson, even though the Oilers already had three shortstops signed. Greer started all 58 games for the Spartans at shortstop, hitting .318 with 34 RBIs.
“Kyle said, ‘We’ll take him and figure out what to do with him when he gets here,” Clark said.
Fast forward to June 12, the third game of the Oilers season. Peninsula was taking on the San Francisco Seals and was short on arms because some pitchers had yet to arrive in Alaska.
Greer had also thrown 11 2-3 innings for USC Upstate this season, so the Oilers threw him out there to mop up in the ninth inning of a 7-1 victory.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder proceeded to strike out two in his inning of work.
Oilers pitching coach Brian Baisch, who has been working with college-level talent for 12 years now, was intrigued.
“I asked him, ‘How many innings did you throw in school last year?’” Baisch said. “He said, ‘11.’
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
To Baisch’s trained eye, Greer’s pitching mechanics did not look like they’d only had 11 innings of work in the past year. He said Greer moves everything in the right direction to get the most out of his arm.
“I got with Kyle and said, ‘We need to get this guy pitching,’” Baisch said. “He has so much potential.”
Richardson and Baisch called Greer into the office and laid out their idea for the summer experiment.
Greer was all for it.
“I thought it would be a good way to get to the next level in my career,” he said.
And thus began another experimental position change in the Alaska Baseball League. Similar position changes paid huge dividends for Winfield and McGwire, who came to the state as pitchers and proved what they could do with a bat, and Shipley, who came as a shortstop and proved what he could do on the mound.
Richardson said different priorities allow ABL managers to take chances with position changes. In college, a player is put where that player gives the team the best chance to win. The ABL is more about getting the player drafted.
“We want to win, but that’s secondary to getting guys drafted,” Richardson said. “When you come into the park, what do you see? The board with all the former Oilers players that played in the major leagues.
“Let’s add another player to the board and see if we can win some games in the process.”
What makes Greer such an intriguing prospect is his velocity. He has hit 93 mph for the Oilers this year, and hit 94 mph at college.
“He’s got a rocket arm, and that’s something you can’t teach,” Richardson said.
Precisely because it can’t be taught, Baisch said coaches aren’t overly concerned with velocity. But scouts pay close attention to velocity, and Greer is close to getting that attention.
“Throwing 95 to 96 is rare, and like gemstone or something else, people are willing to pay for something that is rare,” Richardson said.
Greer said he will most likely go back to playing shortstop at USC Upstate. Even while serving as closer, he is still going through infield and batting practice to prepare for his senior year.
So if Greer wants to catch scouts’ attention as a pitcher, these two months in Alaska are his chance.
That’s why Richardson and Baisch decided to put him at closer and accelerate his learning curve.
“We put him in the closer role to put him under pressure,” Richardson said. “He couldn’t have gotten that pressure in the seventh or eighth inning.
“We thought, ‘Let’s throw him in the fire and see how he does.’”
Greer had appeared in six league games through Friday, giving up two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings while walking five and striking out six.
He also has performed in pressure situations. Against Fairbanks, the Oilers had a 3-1 lead in the eighth when Greer came in with the bases loaded and one out against the Panners’ No. 4 hitter.
Richardson said Greer got the ground-ball the Oilers needed, but Peninsula couldn’t turn the double play. A throwing error by the catcher on a double steal then allowed the tying and winning runs to score.
Baisch said shortstops are usually mentally strong and leaders. The coach said those qualities translate well to closing.
“I try not to think about it,” Greer said. “I just go out and do what I can do.”
At this point, what Greer can do is throw fastballs — both two-seam and four-seam. Baisch is working with him on a slider and a change-up.
Baisch said Greer is an extremely quick learner.
“He’s very kinesthetically aware,” Baisch said. “He knows what his body is doing when it is in athletic motion.”
Baisch said he thinks Greer can get to the magic range of 95 to 96 by building his arm up more by pitching and by adding 10 to 15 pounds.
Greer also missed the 2012 college season due to surgery on his throwing shoulder that repaired nerve damage that was leading to weakness in his deltoid.
“I feel like my arm has been getting stronger and stronger coming off of surgery,” Greer said.
After just one month in Alaska, Greer is rapidly changing which position he thinks is his ticket to professional baseball.
“I would say as a pitcher,” he said. “There’s so many good infielders and shortstops. It’s easier as a pitcher to have a chance.”