DETROIT — Less than 24 hours before he was roaming the outfield in Comerica Park, Parker Meadows was in the Triple-A Toledo clubhouse, scrambling.
Only a few minutes earlier, Meadows had learned he was getting promoted to the major leagues. Now he was going from corner to corner of the clubhouse, holding his phone in the air, trying to get service inside Fifth Third Field.
“It’s kind of an older stadium,” Meadows said. “The service isn’t very good.”
As Meadows struggled to get a call to go through, the Tigers put the news of his promotion on social media. By the time he reached his parents, they already knew. They were stationed inside a hotel in Louisville, ready for the Mud Hens’ upcoming series. They saw the news and celebrated in the lobby.
The Tigers have announced the following roster moves:
*Following yesterday’s game, optioned INF Nick Maton to Triple A Toledo
*Recalled OF Parker Meadows from Triple A Toledo
— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) August 21, 2023
Meadows finally connected with his parents and then others close to him. And as the initial rush died down, he dialed someone who had already called him twice but received no answer. That was Tigers outfielder Riley Greene, Meadows’ former minor-league teammate and spring training roommate.
“I was like, ‘Hey, congrats,’ told him he could stay with me if he wanted to,” Greene said.
Now the two outfielders are reunited in Detroit, and if all goes well for Meadows, they could be playing side by side for years to come.
“I think it gives us one of the more dynamic outfield defenses in all of baseball,” Scott Harris, the Tigers’ president of baseball operations, said Monday afternoon.
Meadows was in the lineup playing center Monday evening, and Greene was in right field. Meadows’ arrival will hasten Greene’s move to a corner outfield spot, a way both to protect his legs and to add even more range with Meadows’ speed in center field.
“It doesn’t mean (Greene’s) days in center are over,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s gonna play all three for the remainder of this year and (we’ll) continue to tweak things. It’s really important that everybody’s on board with it. Riley’s been great about it.”
For Meadows, the glove and the legs have long been the biggest draws. He’s a rangy athlete who can glide around the outfield and the basepaths. Those tools were a large reason the Tigers picked him in the second round of the 2018 draft. But the development of his bat was the key to getting to the major leagues.
Meadows hit only .210 in the lower rungs of the minors during the 2021 season. But before spring of 2022, he cut down his swing, quickened his hands and smoothed out a hitch that had long plagued his swing. The results were stunning. Meadows hit .270 with 20 homers last season, spending most of the year in Double A. He starred in spring training this year, then battled through an early season slump.
As he heated up in Triple A, the Tigers still wanted to see more before they brought him to the major leagues.
“I think defensively and on the bases he was probably ready to play at this level several months ago,” Harris said. “But we had some questions on the bat. Really proud of Parker for answering those questions.”
Meadows helped the Tigers arrive at those answers by hitting .256 with 19 home runs in Toledo. Although there is swing-and-miss in his game that could still trouble him in the majors, Meadows has also unlocked the power scouts could only dream on when he was drafted out of high school.
“We challenged him to take a few more chances earlier in counts, be a little more aggressive earlier in counts but then be hyper-disciplined later in counts,” Harris said. “It’s a really difficult balance to strike, but it was an important input into the decision. He’s done that in recent weeks. We’ve seen a real spike in the power, seen some better pitch selection out of him, which really convinced us he has a chance to compete at this level.”
Before Monday’s game, a large contingent of Meadows’ family sat in the stands behind home plate, pointing out toward center as Meadows ran onto the field. Not in attendance was Meadows’ brother, Austin, the Tigers outfielder who has been on the injured list with anxiety since April 7. Parker said he talked to his big brother after learning the news, but the Tigers otherwise did not provide any update on the elder Meadows, who seems highly unlikely to return in any fashion this season.
Monday, though, was about the younger Meadows brother, part of an energetic crop of prospects who could be a part of next year’s Tigers team. Meadows was the first of Toledo’s prospect triumvirate of Meadows, Colt Keith and Justyn-Henry Malloy to get called to the majors. It’s unclear whether Malloy or Keith will join him in Detroit this season.
“I think we pressed the button on Parker today because, again, we think he can help us in all facets of the game,” Harris said. “There are several players in Toledo that are knocking on the door right now. We don’t think those guys are quite ready yet. I think specifically with Colt and Malloy … in many ways they’re the opposite of Parker. I think both guys have bats that are a little bit ahead of the other facets of their game. I think both guys are working really hard on their defense, they’re working really hard on their base running.”
As Meadows’ major-league debut unfolded, he drifted back and caught the first fly ball hit his way with his body turned toward the side. He made the play and his smile beamed on the video board.
“I gotta get used to that third deck out there,” Meadows said. “It carried a little bit on me, but we caught the ball.”
He struck out in his first at-bat and popped out in his second. But in his third trip to the plate, he laced a 108.5 mph line drive into right field for his first major-league hit.
“This is goosebump stuff!”
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 22, 2023
“It felt great,” Meadows said. “Like I was on top of the world. I looked at the big screen and saw my family and friends cheering. It was a pretty surreal moment.”
Not without drama, Meadows came up again in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, no outs and the Tigers trailing 5-2. Despite taking a couple of mighty hacks, there would be no storybook moment for Meadows on Monday. He struck out in that at-bat and the Tigers went on to lose to the Cubs, 7-6.
“I’m gonna ask him tomorrow what he remembers,” Hinch said, “and it’s gonna be hardly (anything). It’s gonna be a blur for him.”
On the night before his debut, Meadows said he could not sleep. He could barely eat breakfast as the nerves and emotions swirled through his head.
But now Meadows gets a chance to put his stake down in center field for the long haul. Starting Tuesday, this is all business as usual.
“I might be able to fall asleep pretty soon here,” Meadows said after the game. “I’m pretty tired. It was a long day, but a day I’ll never forget.”
(Top photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)