Meadows embraces future in Detroit, with help from younger bro

April 5th, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- was at his Florida home watching the NCAA men’s basketball championship game, preparing for one more Spring Training commute to Port Charlotte and another Opening Day with the Rays, when he got the message late Monday night that he had been traded to the Tigers. Less than 12 hours later, he was in their clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Meadows had to look up the roster and the coaching staff to find familiar faces. Fortunately, he knew somebody in the system.

“Obviously called my brother first,” he said.

Parker Meadows has been a Tigers prospect ever since he was their second-round pick in the 2018 Draft. He’s now ranked as Detroit's No. 20 prospect per MLB Pipeline and he’s in West Michigan preparing for his second season of High-A ball. Once Austin arrives in Detroit for Opening Day, they’ll be just a couple of hours apart.

“He thought it was a joke at first, he really did,” Austin Meadows said. “He was shocked. But he was saying how there's a really good group of guys here, I'm gonna fit right in and feel comfortable. I know he got to play up a couple times over here.

“A lot of emotions running through my head right now and last night, and I'm just excited. It's crazy how all that happens full-circle.”

Parker Meadows’ roommate for most of Spring Training, Spencer Torkelson, is now Austin’s teammate in Detroit. When Torkelson makes his Major League debut Friday, the elder Meadows will make his Tigers debut. Both ended up being headline moves for their own reasons, but they symbolized the common theme of a rebuilt team now looking to win.

“Obviously, it’s a shock for him going from one camp to another at the last minute,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “But given his familiarity with the organization through his brother, I think he’ll be up and running pretty quickly.”

The Tigers were looking at offensive upgrades for a while, general manager Al Avila said. Once Riley Greene suffered a fractured bone in his right foot Friday, which is expected to keep him out at least two months, the urgency increased.

“Once Riley got hurt, we intensified that a little bit more,” Avila said. “There were some talks going on, and finally I stepped in there to close this deal out to where we felt comfortable that we got a good player in Austin Meadows.”

The Tigers were looking for more than a stopgap; they wanted somebody who could fit in long after Greene returns. Meadows matches that profile, both contractually -- he’s arbitration-eligible but isn’t up for free agency until after the 2024 season -- and performance-wise.

“I had a good year last year driving guys in,” said Meadows, who posted a career-high 106 RBIs and hit .299 with runners in scoring position. “That’s an attribute to a lot of guys getting on base for us, for me to finish the job and get guys in. For me, being a three- or four-hole hitter last year, coming over here to provide that pop and provide those RBIs, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Meadows will bat “somewhere in the top half” of the order to get those opportunities, Hinch said.

“He’s a high-end bat for us,” Hinch said, “and he’s going to fit nicely playing probably left field most of the time.”

Akil Baddoo, who had been slated to play there, will move to center according to Hinch. Victor Reyes will also play some in center.

Once Greene returns, the mix will be a balancing act, including three left-handed impact hitters.

“It’ll be a work-in-progress how the playing time’s all divvied up,” Hinch said. “But I know we added a big bat at a really fun time as we get close to breaking camp. … I think any manager in baseball would welcome the drama and dilemma that comes with having too many good players.”

That last part is the key. For the past few years, the Tigers have struggled to field a balanced lineup with quality hitters up and down, waiting for prospects to emerge and others to mature. Now, they’re finally in a position of depth, a quandary that could come up in the future with their infield if other prospects emerge.

“It’s a lot different than what we were doing a few years ago, that’s for sure,” Avila said.

Meadows isn’t thinking down the road yet. He’s focused on getting ready for Opening Day -- he had a minor bilateral quad issue that he doesn’t expect to hamper him -- and finding cold-weather gear. But with the possibility of three seasons in Detroit, he can at least dream about the possibility of his brother joining him.

They’ve never been teammates, Meadows said, due to their four-year age difference.

“How cool would that be?” he said.