As he was discussing his excitement for the upcoming season with the Chattanooga Lookouts earlier this week, Nick Lodolo, the Cincinnati Reds' top organizational prospect, was asked about his fastball.
"I can get mine up there hopefully to 96 or 97 (mph)," Lodolo said. "It's nowhere near Hunter, I can tell you that. It comes out of his hand pretty good, and it's cool to see."
Those who attended Wednesday night's season opener at AT&T Field — a 6-1 Lookouts triumph over the Rocket City Trash Pandas — are in complete agreement.
Hunter Greene, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, produced a performance never before witnessed in Chattanooga, or in professional baseball for that matter. In the first inning alone, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-hander from Los Angeles threw 14 pitches that exceeded 100 mph, according to the stadium's TrackMan device.
His first-inning high was 102.6, which stood as his fastest during a five-inning outing with eight strikeouts in which he allowed three hits and one run. Of Greene's 43 fastballs, 37 reached triple digits, establishing a new single-game record for a starting pitcher since StatCast was implemented to measure such numbers in 2015.
"I fall victim all the time to thinking this is an easy game from the stands and from off to the side," Reds player development director Eric Lee said, "but the level at which this game is being played at AT&T Field and around the league is just further proof that these players — we're just seeing things that we haven't seen on a consistent basis. We all need positivity in life, at least I know I do, and I find it by watching players like Hunter.
"I'm constantly in awe of what he can do, and I know I'm glad I don't have to face him, because that would be quick and painless."
Triple digits have been associated with Greene since 2017, when he became the first California high school athlete ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. He committed to play baseball for UCLA but signed with the Reds as the second overall pick that year for $7.23 million, a minor-league signing bonus that ranked second behind only Gerrit Cole's $8 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.
After creating a buzz at the 2018 Futures Game, consistently reaching 102 as an 18-year-old, Greene developed an elbow strain and wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery before the 2019 season. In an interview several weeks ago on the MLB Network, Greene said that he did pitch about 100 innings last year after the outbreak of the coronavirus, with most of those at the alternate site of the Reds in Cincinnati.
"I'm not glad that I had that, but I've matured a lot and learned a lot over that time," Greene said.
Of course, making contact with Greene's fastball can result in a well-traveled hit, which was evident in the second inning Wednesday when Spencer Griffin ripped a ball to the left-field wall. Drew Mount snagged the ball before crashing into the wall, resulting in the third out, but Mount stayed on the ground for a few minutes before coming off the field and then getting taken out of the game.
The Lookouts and Trash Pandas are scheduled to play two seven-inning games Thursday, which will mark Lodolo's debut and another opportunity to watch Chattanooga's touted 1-2 punch.
"Hunter and I kind of grew up in the same area and played together when we were younger, so we've already had a relationship," Lodolo said. "It's cool to learn off each other and kind of move at the same time. We're going through it together, so we just pick each other's brains — it's just kind of cool to see where we're at now."