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Keith Law's Cactus League takeaways: Hunter Greene debuts, throws rockets for Reds

Hunter Greene, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, is showing the stuff that could one day make him an ace. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Hunter Greene was the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, No. 1 on my own draft board, as a 17-year-old pitcher and, at the time, shortstop, who could hit 100 mph with little apparent effort and whose athleticism and intelligence gave him an enormous ceiling. He made his first official start of spring training Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels' low-A team, and he already has made progress since signing with the Cincinnati Reds last year.

Greene's fastball was 96-100 mph over his two innings, with no fastball under 99 in the first inning, and he struck out four of the seven batters he faced. His progress came in two areas. His slider was 84-86, much sharper than it was in high school, and he now has clearer separation from his curveball, which is still a below-average pitch. He also has gained a half-grade of fastball command; the pitch is still fairly straight, but he located it well side to side on Thursday, and when he paired it with the slider he was unhittable, striking out one right-handed batter looking by throwing a slider at 84 to hit the inside corner of the plate.

Greene turned 18 in November, and because maintaining his arm health is as important as developing him as a pitcher, I expect him to spend part of this year with low-A Dayton, but to work on limited pitch counts and possibly to skip some starts or begin the year in extended spring training in Arizona. He does need to continue to work on fastball command, and he'll need an effective changeup to keep left-handed hitters from cheating on his fastball. What he showed Thursday should give the Reds and their fans even more optimism about his ability to make these adjustments and to approach his No. 1 starter ceiling.