Stronger Meadows confident in swing adjustments he made during offseason

February 24th, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- If a "Prospect House" exists in Tigers Minor League minicamp, Parker Meadows is in it. The High-A West Michigan outfielder is rooming with former Whitecaps teammate Spencer Torkelson in a four-bedroom rental whose current residents include Riley Greene, Ryan Kreidler and Eric De La Rosa.

That’s the good news for Meadows. The bad news comes with the math. With five people and four bedrooms, two players have to pair up in a kids bedroom that has two twin beds. Meadows, despite being 6-foot-5, drew the short straw -- and with it, a short bed.

“My feet are hanging off,” Meadows said, “but I’ve been getting my sleep. I’m sleeping well, so I’m not complaining too much. … I’m getting some good ankle mobility in my sleep.”

It’s a reminder of how unique an athlete the Tigers added to their system when they drafted Meadows out of high school in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft. For Detroit's No. 17-ranked prospect, getting his athleticism to translate on the field has been a slow, fleeting process over the last few years.

Then come moments like what happened Wednesday morning on the back fields at Tigertown. Meadows and a few others were taking batting practice on the field that looks out toward the main building of the Tigers' Minor League complex, which houses the clubhouses and player development offices.

Meadows turned on a pitch with his left-handed swing and connected, sending the ball screaming down the right-field line. The drive cleared the grass berm beyond the right-field fence and bounced off the paved driveway above it, eventually settling just shy of the clubhouse door.

It was the kind of tape-measure shot expected out of one of his housemates. It was a little less expected from Meadows, whose athleticism has shown up more often in the outfield. He has 19 home runs in 251 career Minor League games, the most famous arguably being his inside-the-parker (pun intended) in 2019 at West Michigan.

Though Meadows isn’t necessarily heavier than he was before, he said he focused his offseason training and diet on getting stronger. His weight of 220 pounds is around the same as a year ago, but unlike last year he hopes to avoid the weight loss he felt as last season unfolded.

“I definitely feel stronger," Meadows said. "I put on some more muscle, was moving weight that I’ve never moved before."

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.

“The main thing for me is just my timing,” Meadows said. “My timing has never been fully consistent. My swing has always felt good, but timing is huge in this game, so I’m really cracking down on that.”

While Meadows has produced plenty of highlights in his career, from the inside-the-park homer to highlight catches, consistency has been elusive all around. He hit .209 (74-for-355) with a .620 OPS last year at West Michigan, his extra bases limited to 15 doubles, two triples and eight home runs. A 9-for-70, 29-strikeout opening month in May dug him a statistical hole that he couldn’t escape, despite a solid July (a .744 OPS with 17 RBIs) and a strong finish (a .753 OPS and 16 RBIs in 17 September games).

On the basepaths, Meadows stole nine bases but was caught eight times, compared to 14 steals and eight caught-stealings in his first full season in 2019.

“My first couple steps have always been slow,” Meadows said. "And my reads off the pitcher have always been slow. It’s something I really worked on this offseason: just being explosive, having a friend act like they’re a pitcher and stealing bags off of them.”

Meadows would not be the first outfield prospect to be a late bloomer after being drafted out of high school. But while injuries have delayed or derailed other players’ development, Meadows has stayed relatively healthy, save for a nagging hamstring injury and back spasms in 2019. He had a three-week stint on the injured list last May with an undisclosed ailment.

Meadows was arguably one of the more notable victims of a lost 2020 Minor League season, a big gap at age 20 that was replaced by a month at the Tigers' alternate training site in Toledo.

“I knew it was going to be a struggle mentally,” Meadows said. “What I would tell my old self when I first started [as a pro] was don’t get too high on your good days, don’t get too low on your bad days. …

“Obviously I’ve learned there’s ups and downs, but the more you get down on yourself, the worse you’re going to do and the worse you’re going to feel mentally. This game can be deteriorating -- it really can -- and I’ve learned that. For me, it’s just fun. The ups and downs are fun. I look at it as a good time. It’s all about bouncing back.”

Glimpses like Wednesday’s batting practice homer are a reminder why the 22-year-old Meadows still fits with the top prospects, even if it’s sometimes an awkward fit in the house.

“Tork snores a little bit,” Meadows said.