In June, the Detroit Tigers will pick first overall in the MLB draft for the second time in three seasons. Obviously, that selection, much like the choice of Casey Mize first overall in 2018, is hugely important to an uneven rebuilding effort. But that the advantage extends into the other high rounds where quality talent is often found, and it’s there that a club can really gain an advantage over other teams’ draft classes.
In 2018, the Tigers gambled a valuable pick in the second round (44th overall) on prep outfielder Parker Meadows. The high risk, high reward selection of a toolsy high school player has yet to prove out as a wise decision, but it’s still very early in the process. Meadows has shown off impressive raw abilities thus far, but his hit tool continues to lag far behind the rest. In 2020, the rangy center fielder needs to find his stroke at the plate.
Meadows hails from Georgia, and played his high school ball for Grayson High School in Loganville. The 6’5 outfielder already boasted plus speed and power with a left-handed stick when the Tigers took him 44th overall in 2018. He is also the younger brother of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Austin Meadows, and the Tigers’ rather meager group of position prospects would be substantially improved if Meadows the younger can follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Parker’s pro career got off to a bang, as he crunched four home runs in just 22 games for Gulf Coast Tigers West in his rookie ball debut. He was assigned to the Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps right out of the gate in 2019. The assignment wasn’t terribly aggressive for a prep hitter taken 44th overall in the draft, but some early struggles were predictable. Unfortunately, things didn’t improve as the season progressed. Meadows managed to put up decent strikeout and walk numbers, but he made a lot of weak contact and looked a bit overwhelmed at times throughout the season. In 126 games, he hit just .221 with just seven home runs and only 24 total extra base hits.
Meadows can already do a lot of things for you on the baseball field. He’s better than a plus runner already, and shows every sign of maintaining at least plus speed at full maturity. He can steal you a base. He can throw. At the plate, he is forecast to eventually have plus raw power with a chance for more as he continues to fill out. In short, he’s the whole package as an athlete on the baseball field. The question is whether he can hit enough to make it all work.
Meadows can really run, and while his acceleration is hampered a bit by his long limbs, his career as a thief on the basepaths is going to have more to do with refining his instincts than his straight line speed. Defensively, he can cover a lot of ground with those long strides. While he may eventually profile better in a corner, he has more than enough raw speed to play center field right now.
This past season with the Whitecaps, there weren’t many displays of Meadows’ power outside of batting practice, but there is certainly 30 home run power waiting to be unlocked here. His speed would play very well on balls hit up the gaps at Comerica Park as well as allowing him to contribute a decent amount of steals on the basepaths. Combine that offensive potential with above average defensive ability and you have a player who could rapidly become a force if he improves as a hitter.
The big fly in the ointment is that Meadows didn’t look like a very good bet to hit in his first full year of pro ball. He shows some zone discipline, and didn’t strike out an outlandish amount, but overall it was an underwhelming campaign that finished with a whimper instead of with signs of progress.
Fundamentally, Meadows may simply need to grow into his body a little more. Right now he just doesn’t have the strength and dexterity in his hands and wrists for good barrel control. He hits from an open stance with fairly high hands, and has a bit of an elaborate load as he gathers his long limbs for leverage. The result is a bit disjointed and inconsistent, making it hard for Meadows to get his bat on plane, on time. A 22.4 percent strikeout with the Whitecaps wouldn’t bat anyone’s eyelash if there was plenty of hard contact. Instead, he struggled to square the ball up, and the more he struggled, the more he pressed, increasing his vulnerability to spin as well.
The 2019 season seemed to pile up on him as it went along, but many a teenager at Class-A ball has dealt with a rough season and come back to succeed. It is worth remembering that Meadows’ upside is that of a below-average hitter with above-average power and speed. FanGraphs’ recent profile mentioned Cleveland’s Bradley Zimmer as a decent comparison, and that’s fair, but we do need to see Meadows get substantially better this season to keep that outcome in view.
This is where, hopefully, new Tigers Director of Player Development Kenny Graham and the coaching staff will able to make an impact. Meadows’ tall, lanky frame predicted sluggish early progress, and it was pretty obvious from the start that he was still a bit of a project as a hitter. The Tigers recognized that they need to shake some things up in the way they work with their hitters this offseason. Let’s hope we see some dividends in 2020.
Meadows needs to continue to get stronger, particularly in his hands and his overall core strength, and work to improve his swing. Beyond that remain the usual struggles of adapting to better and better pitching as he progresses. It’s certainly a tall order, but heading into his age-20 season, there is still reason to hope Meadows can get there. The risk remains high, but so does the reward.
Projected Team: Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps
Meadows wasn’t very successful in West Michigan in 2019, but his trouble was less the level of competition as it was specific weaknesses in his own skills. A spring tune-up with the Whitecaps seems a likely starting point, but we would hate to see him repeat the bulk of the season in the Midwest League. Look for the Tigers to want him home in Lakeland before long to work with the player development staff.