The first time Hunter Green pitched in front of scouts as a sophomore, he said he almost got sick to his stomach.
The crowds have only gotten larger as the Warren East senior has progressed, but the nerves have passed as he completes his high school career and looks to the future.
“I know every time I pitch, there’s always going to be at least a few scouts here,” Green said. “That right there just gets me excited more than anything. It’s not anything that makes me nervous or antsy. It just makes me want to give it everything I’ve got to impress these guys.”
Green, a 6-foot-4-inch left-hander, has surged up the MLB draft projections after a productive summer circuit.
Many rankings consider him the second-best 2013 prospect in Kentucky behind Woodford County’s Clinton Hollon, as well as one of the nation’s top 100 high school players.
MaxPreps ranked him the 50th best 2013 high school prospect in the country in the preseason, and he was named a First-Team Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American.
“He’s a special athlete,” South Warren coach Chris Gage said. “It’s not the fact that he throws 92 mph. You can see what the scouts like with him – athletic build and the mind to go with it. He battles and throws great pitches in big spots.
“I was around for (current Milwaukee Brewer) Corey Hart at Greenwood, and you could tell then that Corey was special. You can see the same thing with Hunter Green.”
Green began to make an impact as a sophomore in 2011, when he recorded 81 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 512/3 innings as the Raiders reached the state tournament. But his accomplishments that year were overshadowed by pitcher Mark Biggs, who was drafted in the eighth round by the Toronto Blue Jays.
When scouts came to check out Biggs, he would talk up Green’s potential and convince them to stick around and watch his teammate, Green said.
Green fought through minor injuries as a junior to record a 6-2 record, striking out a program-record 111 batters with a 1.10 ERA in 511/3 innings. A scout or two was typically in attendance.
That’s when the hurler hit the road, and scouts started to come in droves.
“I think seeing Mark do it may have helped some, and I think the summer where he travels – he pitched at Wrigley Field, for God’s sake,” Warren East coach Wes Sanford said.
Green’s summer travels did bring him to the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field for the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game. He pitched two scoreless innings for the winning American League team, allowing one walk with two strikeouts.
He also attended showcases in Minneapolis, Syracuse, N.Y., and Jupiter, Fla., and he narrowly missed the final cut for Team USA’s 18-and-under squad. At many of those events, there were as many as 300 scouts in attendance, said Green’s father, Greg.
“That’s a 17-year-old kid handling pressure,” Sanford said. “He’s getting thick-skinned, and that’s a good thing.”
Biggs has been in the same situation. The former Raider is currently in Clearwater, Fla., at extended spring training with the Blue Jays organization.
As a family friend, Biggs has stressed to Green the importance of letting ability take over when faced with pressure – especially when a sea of scouts lift their radar guns in unison behind home plate.
“The first time those guys are back there, you start to wind up and all the guns go up, it’s hard not to see it,” Biggs said. “You just get used to playing in front of them, and eventually, you don’t even notice them.”
But Green did notice them the first time, and it made him nauseous.
“My first outing, that was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “I’ve never really got that nervous. That first day was probably the worst. I was almost sick to my stomach, but since then, everything’s been going good, and it doesn’t bother me.”
In eight starts this season, Green has recorded 89 strikeouts and a 0.17 ERA in 412/3 innings. He’s allowed 13 hits and 12 runs – one earned.
He’s also got it done at the plate, batting .377 with seven home runs.
Despite the stats, Green’s record is 2-1 on the mound. It took a run on a passed ball in the seventh inning Tuesday against Bowling Green to earn him the victory after striking out 16 batters and allowing two hits over seven innings.
“He’s not all about the win-loss column for himself,” Greg Green said. “He’s trying to help his team win. His numbers are good, and he’s trying to lift them up.”
Green’s fastball consistently floats between 90-92 mph, he said, but he’s cranked it as high as 95 mph with two strikes on a batter.
Sanford thinks Green’s best pitch is his 80-83 mph change-up, he said, along with his 76-78 mph curveball. His walks total, which has been one of his drawbacks in the past, has also decreased this year.
“He’s really done a good job of learning how to throw strikes with his velocity so he doesn’t have to back off,” Sanford said. “He’s pretty filthy. That’s why his stats are like a video game.”
With that kind of repertoire as a lefty, and room to get stronger at 6-4 and 170 pounds, scouts see long-term potential, Sanford said. One of the pieces of criticism Green heard during his tryout with Team USA was that he needed to add weight to his 160-pound frame, which he did in the offseason.
Greg Green said he’s consistently heard his son projected in the top three rounds of the MLB draft, which takes place June 6-8. That would make him one of the highest picks in the area’s history, especially for a high-schooler.
Current Los Angeles Angels pitcher Joe Blanton, who attended Franklin-Simpson and Edmonson County high schools, was selected out of the University of Kentucky with the 24th overall pick in 2002.
Hunter Green gave a verbal commitment last year to Kentucky over Louisville, Western Kentucky and Ole Miss, but his destination is a wait-and-see situation, Greg Green said.
Perfect Game ranks Green the 94th best 2013 high school prospect in the country and 126th overall. In November, Baseball America rated him the 32nd best 2013 high school player.
Through the Fence Baseball projected him as the 33rd overall pick in a March 28 mock draft, so his range stretches wide.
“It’s varying,” Greg Green said. “We hear (rounds) 1-3 a lot. Some guys project 1, some project 2, some project 3. But we’re not really worrying about that right now. We’re focused on him finishing his high school career in a positive way.
“If it doesn’t work out, he’s going to be playing at Kentucky in the (Southeastern Conference). Either way, it’s going to be a winning situation for him.”
Hunter Green shares the same confidence that his future will work out for the best.
The teenager who first felt physically ill at the idea of being scrutinized by professionals is no longer afraid to dazzle them.
“During the season, I’m just focused on coming out and helping the team win,” he said. “It’s my senior year, so I’m enjoying it with all my friends. The thing with the draft, I know I’m set to go to Kentucky, and we’ll just see what happens down the road.”