Mired in an ages-long rebuild and with a farm system that isn’t known for players possessing high-end athleticism, outfielder Parker Meadows is a bastion of unrefined physical gifts lurking under the surface of Detroit Tigers prospect coverage.
It can sometimes be easy to forget about Meadows, which is peculiar considering he was the first pick in the second round back in 2018, and has a brother, Austin, who is a quality major leaguer with the Tampa Bay Rays. We knew all along it would take a while to make an impact, but a rough debut took a lot of the shine off his prospect status. To be honest, some of the narrative surrounding his supposedly botched development can trend toward the unfairly harsh side, although it’s unquestionably true that he’s yet to make a significant impact.
With the highest rated group of Detroit’s prospects breaking into the majors, it’s time for the second tier of players to take the next step in their development. Of the players in that category, there aren’t many with a higher potential for success than Meadows. On the other hand, he’s also the most likely to turn to dust in the process. Let’s take a look at what he has to offer the team.
A Georgia native from a baseball family, Meadows was considered a mid-second round prospect by much of the media and baseball-adjacent scouting industry. The Tigers, in possession of the first pick in each round, fell in love with his athletic gifts and jumped the market on him, spending the 44th overall pick to bring him into the fold as a high schooler in 2018.
Since that time, it’s been a bit of a slog for the young outfielder. Even for his young age, he had a reputation for being exceptionally raw, and his minor league stats have reflected that perception. His first full season of pro ball was 2019 – he played for the the Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps and hit .221/.296/.312, which is 20 percent below average, according to wRC+.
The coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season for most low minors players, and that included Meadows. Without the ability to lay our eyes on him, it’s pretty much impossible to know exactly what kind of progress he made behind closed doors. However, last year would have been a crucial season in his development and it’ll be fascinating to see what he looks like when the season opens and whether there are any substantive changes in his game.
There’s nothing more common in baseball than “untapped potential,” which is a quality Meadows deals in by metric ton. He’s long-limbed and has all the precursors of real power in his bag. He is able to get some serious torque from his large frame, which produces impressive bat speed. It’s easy to imagine his adding considerable good weight to his lanky 6’5” body and using the added bulk to send mistake pitches into the next county.
Saying that “the ball sounds different” coming off a player’s bat is a well-worn and tired cliché, but anecdotally, it’s absolutely true in this case. There was one instance in which, while watching batting practice, I hadn’t realized that his round had begun and was genuinely startled by the loud crack produced by his swing.
In addition to his offensive skillset, Meadows’ plus speed enables him to be a respectable fielder and perhaps much better than that as he refines his game. The Tigers have deployed him almost exclusively in center, where he has the instincts to survive as he climbs the ladder. He also has the tools to move to either corner position if he were called upon to do so. Versatility isn’t his calling card (frankly, it isn’t the calling card of any good prospect) but it’s certainly a nice skill to stick in his back pocket.
Remember all that untapped potential we’ve mentioned a few times in this piece? It’s fun to focus on the potential, but there’s a reason it’s untapped. First of all, his instincts at the plate are less than incredible. His swing timing was often a nightmare, as he is forced to compensate for a very noisy setup. Additionally, the length that makes him a fun watch in batting practice betrays him in-game. Long players have a notoriously difficult time getting their rhythm ironed out, and that’s very much the case with Meadows.
The timing issues don’t only impact his ability to catch up to professional fastballs, but it also resulted in an unhealthy number of grounders in his batted ball output. It doesn’t help that the Whitecaps’ coaching staff insisted on him bunting in every game, a commonly implemented policy organization-wide for prospects without present in-game power. While it may help win minor league baseball games, it also impedes their progress as professional hitters by wasting precious plate appearances, which is a much bigger deal in the case of an underdeveloped teenage prospect whose calling cards are power and speed.
The bottom line is that, while he does a lot of fun things, the floor for a player like Meadows resembles molten lava. We knew he’d be a long-term play when the team drafted him, but one has to imagine the clock will start to run on the organization’s patience with him if substantial improvement in contact isn’t in evidence this year. No one is expecting him to make a Ronald Acuña-esque rise, but it’s important that he at least demonstrate that he belongs in the conversation when live baseball resumes. Hopefully the Tigers revamped player development staff has some ideas, lest the second round remain a veritable wasteland in terms of draft value.
Projected Team: High-A West Michigan Whitecaps
A revenge tour with the Whitecaps is likely in order for Meadows. The Tigers’ in-state affiliate was a Low-A club when he played there once before, but it’s been bumped up the food chain and now serves as the High-A pit stop. The year of play may have been lost, but it’s not like the world stood still, so it’s not unreasonable to believe he took the summer to work on his game. As a player with a major league brother, he may have had a little more access to training and some competition than others. The organization has been fairly aggressive with his assignments in the past, and High-A is age appropriate competition. There’s every reason to believe that the (hopefully) post-pandemic and (hopefully) improved version of Meadows will get a chance to prove himself at West Michigan.
Video h/t Kyler Peterson of Perfect Game