Jackson Greer Has Overcome the Odds to End up at Tennessee

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(Photo via Bryan Green/Flickr)

Jackson Greer is quick to remind collegiate baseball players that he’s too old to be playing college baseball. Not because he isn’t appreciative for the opportunity, but because his story, although good, isn’t a textbook one.

It starts at Central High School in Knoxville, where Vol great Todd Helton starred. Greer starred as well, leading the Bobcats as the team’s captain where he was the sixth-ranked catcher in the state of Tennessee according to PerfectGame. But he only had one Division 1 baseball offer coming out, and that was from East Tennessee State.

Greer grew up a Vol fan. Naturally, he dreamed of wanting to play for Tennessee, but former Vols head coach Dave Serrano didn’t extend him an offer out of high school, which left Greer no choice but to attend ETSU.

“I go in there and hit .125 my freshman year,” Greer said. “I really just sucked. I couldn’t even touch a ball.”

Where Greer was productive early on during his ETSU career was behind the dish. After redshirting in 2016 and playing sparingly in 2017, Greer earned the starting job at catcher as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. Greer gunned down 20-of-47 baserunners attempting steals that season for an impressive .574 stolen base percentage. He committed only two errors for a .994 fielding percentage.

“I’m a natural defensive dude,” Greer explained. “I wouldn’t have to do any catching work for a straight year, and I could probably go out there and catch a game tomorrow. Hitting is the opposite for me. I’ve really had to teach myself how to hit.”

Those hitting lessons finally started to pay off that first season in a starting role. He bumped his average up to .235, but he also added power to his game as he ranked second on the team with nine home runs.

The power came as a redshirt sophomore, but as a redshirt junior in 2019, Greer became a complete hitter. He led the Bucs with a .314 batting average, 65 hits, 15 doubles, 10 home runs, 42 RBI, 112 total bases, a .541 slugging percentage, and a .434 on-base percentage on his way to earning first team all-conference honors. He was even hit by a pitch on 16 different occasions, which ranks second in ETSU baseball history for most hit by pitches in a season.

And, of course, he was his usual self behind the dish. Greer was a Rawlings Gold Glove nominee with a .994 fielding percentage, 324 putouts, 26 assists, and just two errors. He gunned down 12 runners attempting to steal.

Though Greer says he had to teach himself how to hit, he credits former ETSU standout Caleb Longley for his progress. Longley, the current Director of Hitting Development and Analytics at Arizona State, helped Greer fix his swing fundamentally.

“Junior year is when I really learned how to hit,” Greer explained. “I would always try to really swing for the fence instead of trying to drive something into the gaps. I credit my success to Caleb Longley. He was an older guy at ETSU and took me under his wing. Without him, I wouldn’t be in the spot I am today.”

That “spot” today is being able to commit to the hometown Volunteers as a graduate transfer. On Sunday afternoon, Greer announced his decision to play his final year of college baseball at Tennessee over the likes of Arkansas, NC State, and Kansas State.

“It’s always been a dream to play for UT,” Greer said. “That was a deciding factor, too. The family isn’t spending thousands of dollars a year to travel to watch me play. They can sleep in their own bed. I’m a family man, and it helps them out, too.

“It’s a dream come true. No words can express how I’m feeling.”

A couple of Tennessee’s current players helped Greer with his decision to commit to Tony Vitello and the Vols. While playing in the Cape Cod League this past summer, Greer was teammates with current Vol pitcher Will Heflin. Heflin is also an east Tennessee native from Morristown, as are Alcoa native Redmond Walsh and Cleveland native Camden Sewell on UT’s roster. Greer leaned on those three when deciding where to transfer.

“They’ve got a couple of Knoxville guys on the teams, but nobody has dealt with the adversities or failures that I have,” Greer said. “You’re looking at a guy that’s been through it.”

Tennessee not offering Greer out of high school was the first bump in the road. Learning to hit at ETSU was the second. The Cape Cod League — the nation’s premier collegiate summer league — was the third.

Greer ended up being a midseason All-Star in the Cape Cod, but he was cut twice. He was cut by the Harwich Mariners when they added a catcher from Duke to the roster and was cut a second time by the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox when they added a catcher from UCLA.

“I knew I could play with these boys,” Greer said. “I just needed a chance, and my coach got me a chance up there.

“I get up there and am tearing it up with the Harwich. I’m leading the league in average, and I get cut. I get picked up by the YD Red Sox, had to sleep in my truck for two nights because I didn’t have a host home or the money for a hotel. I had to sit on the bench all week when I got there, then played on a Sunday and went 2-for-3. Then, I got cut after the game.”

Greer wasn’t on a primary contract in the Cape Cod, whereas the catchers from Duke and UCLA were. Once their college baseball seasons ended, they immediately joined their clubs in the Cape Cod, leaving Greer without a roster spot. Greer was eventually picked up by the Bourne Braves and played the rest of the summer alongside Heflin.

“It was a really good summer,” Greer said. “It was unfortunate, but I winded up in the right place, but they doubted me too.”

Upon returning home from the Cape Cod, Greer was poised for a strong final season as ETSU’s starting catcher. Through the first 15 games of the 2020 season, he was hitting .253 with four home runs. Then, the season came to a sudden halt due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only did the pandemic end his senior season in Johnson City prematurely, it also hampered his opportunity to be drafted. Greer himself believes he would have been drafted anywhere from the 10th-15th round if the 2020 MLB Draft was going to be held under normal circumstances. It’s not, however, as it will likely be a five or 10-round draft.

“I was really starting to get hot this year when the season ended,” Greer said. “I would have probably hit 25 home runs this year if the season didn’t get canceled, but I’ll save them for next year. It’s somewhat of a blessing that it ended earlier because now I get to go to Tennessee.”

Greer is spending his quarantine training. He’s working out six times a week in preparation for his lone season with the Vols. Two of those six days, he’s doing two workouts with a focus on sprints as he looks to improve as a runner.

“I cold play tomorrow because this is definitely the best shape I’ve been in,” Greer said. “We’re going to be really good.”