The Tigers have had the kind of success with SEC receivers that would make an NFL general manager happy. In Detroit's case, though, catchers from the Southeastern Conference have helped turn what was an organizational wasteland behind the plate years ago into a position of depth, one South Carolina's Grayson Greiner and UCLA's Shane Zeile could help greatly after Detroit took him with their third- and fifth-round picks of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft on Friday.
Whether it was their plan or not, the two additions could provide some depth to a system that has thinned out a bit with recent promotions and relied on some Minor League free agents for mid-level depth this year.
"Like I've always said, we never draft by need, we draft by best talent on the board. Grayson Greiner and Zeile were two of the best guys on the board at the time," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "And obviously, when you can add catching to the organization, add some depth, it's something that's a positive. So it fit into what we were doing just fine."
Greiner and Zeile not only come from opposite coasts, but opposite backgrounds. Zeile's uncle, Todd, broke into the Majors as a catcher to begin a 16-year Major League career, though the bulk of those seasons featured him as a corner infielder. Shane Zeile, by contrast, came to UCLA as a highly regarded infielder, and worked out as a high schooler with Tigers shortstop and fellow Valencia High School graduate Danny Worth.
"I took ground balls and hit with him in the offseason," Worth recalled.
Not until this spring did Shane Zeile settle in behind the plate.
"We saw him early in the season, in the spring, and stayed on him," Tigers scouting director Scott Pleis said. "Our area guys did a great job of identifying him as a prospect behind the plate. … He's still got upside there as a college guy, because he hasn't caught his entire life. There's definitely some upside there."
Greiner, too, has athletic greatness in his genes, but not on the diamond. His father, Mark Greiner, played basketball at South Carolina under Hall of Fame coach Frank McGuire in the 1970s. His grandfather, Bill Killoy, was a placekicker for South Carolina's football team in the late 1940s.
"Never thought I'd see the day where I'm a Tiger," Greiner tweeted Friday afternoon, playing on the association with South Carolina's in-state rival Clemson. "So blessed to have so many friends and family to watch my dream come true."
Greiner not only fell in love with baseball, but with catching, his lifelong position. His large frame -- either 6-foot-5 or 6-6, depending on the scouting report -- wouldn't get in the way.
He's at the tall end for a catcher -- Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters are listed at the same height -- but Greiner is considered a defense-first backstop. At a position that organizations have been known to move players away from in order to avoid wear and tear, the Tigers drafted Greiner to stick behind the plate, where his strong, accurate arm and .995 fielding percentage helped him earn SEC All-Defensive honors.
"Yeah, he's large, but he's mobile," Chadd said. "He moves well. He was Team USA's primary catcher last summer, so he's handled pitchers of Major League caliber. So we know he can catch, we know he can throw, and I like his offensive abilities, too. Outstanding makeup, and we think he's got the leadership qualities to catch, and catch at the highest level."
Greiner has the body frame for a right-handed power bat, and he hit grand slams in two late-inning comeback rallies for the Gamecocks, but how his hitting evolves will prove secondary to his work behind the plate. He hit .311 (66-for-212) in his junior season, with 13 doubles, eight homers, 50 RBIs, a .389 on-base percentage and .486 slugging.
"I'd probably classify him more as a gap-type hitter," Chadd said. "He does have some power, but I think he's more of a contact guy. There's some strength in his swing, but again, I think if you want to talk about the strengths in his game, I think it's going to be the catch-and-throw ability, and you'll have some offensive production with it as well."
Greiner ranked 96th on MLB.com's list of Top 200 Draft prospects. In a Draft that boasted some talented young catchers whose futures might lie at different positions, Greiner was one of the higher-ranked true catchers.
The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.