Since Will Townsley controlled the iPad, he would know Elijah Green’s 60-yard dash time first. The strength and conditioning coach knelt on Bradenton IMG Academy’s turf, parallel to the starting gate, and started Green’s clock in sync with his right foot’s first pivot and his arm’s first rip.
The other IMG varsity players and coaches — scattered at performance test stations, creeping closer and closer as Green’s sprint neared — craned forward to catch a glimpse of Townsley’s screen. Green had already produced the fastest 60-yard dash time Townsley ever saw in person. That was a 6.29, ahead of the 2020-21 season. This time, in late May, the outfielder and MLB.com’s No. 3 prospect entering the 2022 draft wanted to dip beneath six seconds.
Green tore past the 10-yard gate. Then, the 20-yard one. Between the second and third gates, he averaged 22.5 mph — a tenth of a second less than Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf’s peak speed when traveling 114 yards to prevent a pick-six in 2020. And by the time Green blew past the final laser, Townsley’s screen showed the final time: 5.99 seconds.
As Green fine-tuned his skillset the last two seasons with IMG, speed became one of the defining factors that catapulted him up draft boards. The Windermere native stole 15 bases this season while improving his average (.462), hits (36), RBIs (32) and home runs (9) during his second sample size of 25 games, serving as the national team’s leadoff hitter and centerfielder.
“He didn’t just handle (the pitching),” IMG national team head coach David Turgeon said. “He dominated it.”
But he’s also one of the more intriguing prospects, and ESPN draft analyst Kiley McDaniel said on a conference call that Green represents the top-10 prospect with the “biggest risk on his hit tool.” His hype as a 16-year-old was warranted because of Green’s natural toolset that mirrored Bryce Harper and Justin Upton, McDaniel said, but general managers need to calculate their risks to make sure picks don’t backfire and cause them to get fired. IMG hitters are often “held to a different standard than everyone” because of the level of pitching they face.
That dichotomy could cause Green to fall — or become a top-five pick — Sunday during the first round.
Throughout his two seasons at IMG, leadership coach Diamyn Hall helped Green prepare for a shift like this. They met for individual sessions and workshops once a month. Hall guided him through exercises where Green dissected why he played the game of baseball.
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Hall still checks in with Green about his “why,” and he called him Tuesday as draft day neared. Before Hall ended the conversation, he told Green, “There will be people who believe in you and there will be people who don’t. But succeed anyway.”
For years, Green relied on natural talent to create success. He spent his first two years of high school at TNXL Academy in Ocoee, where he took online classes while training extra with Brian Martinez throughout the year. He faced junior college pitchers and learned to read balls off the bat from 20-year-olds as a freshman. Martinez said Green adjusted faster than the normal player because of his strength and speed.
Green worked on shortening his swing and staying in his lower half, not baiting himself into the big and long swings he got away with against slower pitching. In TNXL’s final game before the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, Green pieced together an “electric” performance against Santa Fe Community College with two home runs and a diving catch in the outfield.
“His ability started turning a corner,” Martinez said. “It just wasn’t talent anymore. He started becoming a better baseball player.”
This season, 11 of Green’s 21 strikeouts came in IMG’s first 10 games, leaving him with just 10 scattered across the final 15 contests. The “try-harder thing really wasn’t working,” national team hitting coach Kory DeHaan said. Turgeon added that everything started clicking for Green around the four-week mark of the season. They worked on one-hand drills and swings without Green’s lower half to help him feel his plane in the zone, understand how to transfer weight to his back hip before striding back through his swing.
That eliminated Green’s rigidity. The mixture of “get-good” swings with “feel-good” swings started translating into results on the field.
“Once he steps into the batter’s box, he’s in scoring position,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon said Green represents a once-in-a-generation athlete. He’s someone who needs time — time to escape the hype and social media attraction from the last two years, time to dive into the day-to-day minor league schedule — to continue developing at the next level. When IMG traveled for games, Turgeon would joke that Green attracted attention from fans and opponents like a member of the Beatles on tour.
Green also can’t fall into the trap of monotonously moving through the “everyday, hump-day routines,” DeHaan said. If he avoids that, then his potential will bubble closer to the surface.
“If you’re gonna bet on somebody, he’s gonna be a kid to bet on,” DeHaan said.