A Parker Meadows’ breakout could transform the Detroit Tigers system.
Detroit Tigers outfield prospect Parker Meadows has always been tremendously talented. He was a strapping 6-foot-5, 205-pound outfielder coming out of his Georgia high school, earning future above-average or better grades for his arm, defense, raw power, and speed.
The Tigers took Meadows in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft, spending $2.5 million with the 44th overall pick to sign him away from a commitment to Clemson. If the brief tools rundown above doesn’t sound like a player who would last 44 picks in any draft, perhaps this short scouting report from FanGraphs’ 2018 draft board will help explain:
"Big, toolsy prep center fielder with bloodlines but everything plays down due to mediocre instincts/feel to hit."
The price tag probably scared some teams away, but the hit tool was the biggest concern about Meadows. And for those who follow the Detroit Tigers minor leagues closely, those concerns appeared justified.
Parker Meadows was not terribly good in his full-season debut for Low-A West Michigan in 2019, hitting .221 with seven home runs, and going just 14-for-22 on steal attempts. Then he lost a full year of development in the COVID-shuttered 2020 season.
He was promoted to High-A in 2021, though the minor-league reshuffling meant a return to West Michigan. He performed poorly again, this time batting just .208 with eight home runs and nine steals in seventeen tries.
It seemed as though the scouts nailed it. Parker Meadows still looked good in the outfield. His long, graceful strides led to plus runs times. He flashed impressive raw power in batting practice. And in games he even showed solid plate discipline, keeping his strikeout rate under 25% while walking at a 9% clip.
But he just couldn’t make any kind of consistent hard contact at the plate. The hitch in Meadows’ swing wreaked havoc on his timing, leading to scores of weak ground outs to second base and soft fly outs to left field.
Prospect fatigue set in for many talent evaluators. Meadows was our 11th ranked Detroit Tigers prospect heading into the 2021 season, but he didn’t make our Top 20 list this year. He didn’t even make our list of the five prospects who just missed the top 20. We had given up hope.
Parker Meadows Sees the Light
The first indication that Parker Meadows made some changes came from a February article from Jason Beck, the Detroit Tigers beat writer for MLB.com. Meadows described his offseason work to get stronger and faster, and Beck paraphrased the biggest change:
"The other major change was his swing. He worked with one of his old coaches in Georgia on his bat path and speed, developing a quicker swing that will hopefully be easier to repeat. He also added a toe tap as a timing mechanism."
It was easy enough to dismiss an article like that. Stories about players getting in better shape and making off-season changes are a dime a dozen, and it’s rare to see any actual differences on the field.
Meadows didn’t see great results early in his first series with the West Michigan Whitecaps this year, but his swings were obviously better. And then he went supernova.
Through six games Parker Meadows is hitting .296 with three doubles, four home runs, three walks, and five strikeouts. It’s not hyperbole to say he has made more hard contact in the first week of 2022 than he did for whole months in 2019 and 2021. Something has changed.
Now, we just joked the other day about drawing conclusions so early, and six games is just a fraction of a full season. Baseball history is littered with streaks like this, so it may be best to temper our expectations.
Meadows will almost certainly cool down soon. Or, perhaps he’ll get promoted to Double-A Erie and run into a new series of struggles. But it’s important to remember he will spend the entire season at 22. Even after three years in the wilderness, a breakout now would have him right on track.
Perhaps it’s best to look at Parker Meadows as though he had actually gone to Clemson in 2018 instead of signing with the Tigers, and then left school after the 2021 draft. The 2022 season would be his first full year in minor-league baseball, and an assignment to High-A to begin the season would be appropriate. That’s essentially the path Daniel Cabrera, Dillon Dingler, and Spencer Torkelson took last year.
Again, we’re only talking about a six-game sample here. This could easily be a massive overreaction, and it always feels too good to be true when a prospect suddenly takes a big developmental leap. But it does happen.
Parker Meadows is at least vaguely reminiscent of Trent Grisham, who was Milwaukee’s first round pick in 2015. No two players are exactly alike, of course. Meadows had more size, while Grisham was considered a much more polished hitter. But both were toolsy, left-handed hitting high school outfielders.
Grisham showed flashes of those tools in the minors (19 HR, 78SB in 354 G) and he walked a ton, but he couldn’t make consistent quality contact. Through three years and 299 games of full-season ball he hit just .228.
And then in 2019 Grisham made some changes to his swing and approach, and he rocketed through the minors. He found his power in Double-A, with 13 homers in 63 games, and then he hit .381 with 13 more home runs in a 34-game stretch at Triple-A San Antonio.
By August he was in the big leagues, and he saw so much action for the Brewers down the stretch that he exhausted his rookie eligibility before he could return to any Top-100 prospect lists.
This isn’t to say Meadows can or will follow the same trajectory. It’s just worth noting that it’s possible.
And that would certainly be a welcome development for the Detroit Tigers.