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Tigers prospect Parker Meadows is working to unlock his ‘unbelievable talent’

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The former second round pick was given an aggressive assignment to Low-A West Michigan to open the 2019 season.

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Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

For as much as scouts talk about tools and projection and build, confidence is a crucially important part of the game of baseball. Fortunately, Tigers prospect Parker Meadows has that in spades.

“Coming out of high school, obviously, I was a projected draft pick,” recalled the long-limbed outfielder. “Mentally, I thought I was better than everyone else. Here, I [still] think I’m better than everyone else.”

Prospect evaluators tend to agree. Of the players on West Michigan’s roster, Meadows is the most highly ranked, with shortstop Wenceel Perez as his only real competition. Among Tigers prospects, he placed ninth over at The Athletic, ninth at MLB Pipeline, tenth at FanGraphs, and nabbed the tenth spot on our list as well.

What sets him apart from the pack? Bless You Boys put the question to him, and his answer was just as confident.

“Everything. All my tools, my speed, my hitting, all that stuff,” remarked Meadows. “And on the mental side, you gotta stay positive. My goal is just to hit the ball as hard as possible, and if it’s on the ground, I’ll try to get my speed out.”

When the Tigers drafted Meadows with the 44th pick in the 2018 draft, they knew that they had just added a potential star to the organization. He certainly has the requisite loud tools and projectable frame to fit that description. However, they also knew that in order to attain that outcome, there would be a lot of work involved. Meadows is just about as raw as they come. His assignment to Low-A ball will be a real challenge — one that both he and the Tigers are well aware of.

The proof of that statement is already being made plain. Meadows’ raw skill and tantalizing projections create a jarring juxtaposition with his results. Through three games to open the season, the lanky 19-year-old had already struck out seven times. Although one was a botched call on a checked swing, that’s still a higher number than one hopes to see from one of the organization’s top prospects.

“He was amazing in spring training,” reflected manager Lance Parrish. “He’s an unbelievable talent. Sometimes I just wish he would hit the ball on the ground, because I’ve seen him beat out ground balls out in spring training. I know that he wants to do well. He’s trying. We’ll leave it at that.”

That’s no small praise from a man who was himself a World Series champion and one of the best in the game at one time. The talent that elicited that praise was obvious last summer, as Meadows flashed three or four plus tools (raw power, speed, arm strength, defense) on any given the night. Unfortunately, the power hasn’t been on display much this spring, and the speed has been negated by his struggles getting on base.

This swing and miss from the Whitecaps’ home opener nicely encapsulates the situation in which Meadows finds himself.

In a vacuum, the swing isn’t a bad one. It’s a bit stiff, but not indicative of anything starkly negative. There’s not too much of an uppercut, although it does have enough of an angle to loft the ball and tap into his raw power. You can’t help but admire his bat speed — it’s among the best in the organization. He is badly late on the pitch, though, a fastball that just overpowers him.

Meadows has to adapt to his new environment to live up to his potential, and he knows it. He identified the source of his struggles for Bless You Boys as timing, which comes as no real surprise. Many young hitters struggle to get their timing right as they face advanced pitching for the first time. Gone are the days of teeing off on 80 mph meatballs down the middle of the zone. Every pitcher has a breaking ball. Every pitcher can hit the high-80s, at least. Gearing up for that in every at-bat is an adjustment required of any recent prep draft pick.

It’s even trickier for a player of Meadows’ build. His long limbs and thin frame create an extra challenge, as he tries to get his whole body in a single, fluid, repeatable motion. More muscle will come with time and should help, but right now the only way to get past the issue is to fight through it, seeing plenty of pitches and working consistent at-bats to adjust to the advanced pitching that he’s facing. That’s true at every level of the minors, and it’s only going to get more difficult from here.

But he isn’t without help. His brother, Austin Meadows, is a big-leaguer with Tampa Bay. The two have a strong relationship, which is a fantastic resource for Parker as he begins his professional career.

“We drove Parker to the ballpark all the time to watch Austin, and then once Parker got going, Austin was already off playing,” recalled Staci Meadows, the Meadows boys’ mother. “They support each other and Parker leans on him for advice.”

Parker understands the value of that relationship, and isn’t afraid to use his brother’s experience to his advantage.

“Him coming through the minor leagues definitely gave me an idea of what it was like,” said the younger Meadows brother. “Obviously... you’re going to go through tough times in the minor leagues, the major leagues, wherever you’re at. Just keep that level head and good stuff is gonna turn out.”

Maintaining a level head is a concept that is evidently central to his game plan. It’s something he brought up four times in our three-minute conversation and its importance is what he seems to have taken away from his brother’s time in the minor leagues.

As Lance Parrish calmly reflected his experiences with Meadows, he indicated that it’s only a matter of time before things start to turn up for his center fielder.

“All he really needs is to get going,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen a million times. Guys get a hit, something clicks, and they’re overloaded with confidence after that. I know what he’s capable of doing, so we just gotta get him going.”

Through nine games, the swings and misses have been on display for Meadows. So too is the zone discipline to take his walks. He’s flashed the speed, the leather, and the arm talent. And on Friday night, against the Great Lakes Loons, the power and speed combination at the plate came together for Meadows’ first home run of the season.

All told, there’s no less reason to be excited about the top prospect’s natural feel for the game and sky-high potential than when the season opened less than two weeks ago. In fact, the high praise he received from Parrish and his rock-steady mental approach are even more fuel for enthusiasm than we had before, strikeouts notwithstanding. If everything comes together for him, Meadows has the potential to spearhead the next generation of homegrown Tigers talent. He’s a long way away from Detroit, but his development will be exciting to watch unfold.