'Fun to watch' Meadows adds highlight catch to reel

August 31st, 2023

DETROIT -- had a base hit in his Major League debut, a Comerica Park triple the next night, a walk-off three-run home run for his first RBI a few nights later, a home run robbery the same evening and a three-hit game against the Yankees on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, he reached the elite sprint speed advertised from the Tigers’ No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline with a 101-foot sprint across Comerica Park’s massive outfield to set up a leaping grab on the warning track.

It didn’t mean much on the scoreboard in a 6-2 loss to the Yankees, but it meant plenty for fans looking for some sort of bright spot out of the Tigers’ fifth consecutive loss since Meadows’ walk-off homer last Friday. The 23-year-old is turning out to be the highlight of a disappointing homestand.

Meadows couldn’t do much about the Yankees’ power display; none of New York’s three homers off reliever Joey Wentz were close enough for a Tigers outfielder to try to bring back. But everything that stays in the yard in the gaps, Meadows seemingly has a chance to run down.

“I played with him in Triple-A, so I know he can go get the ball as good as anybody. It's really fun to watch,” Wentz said afterward. “As a pitcher, if the ball goes up to one of the gaps or to center field, as long as it's not over the fence, he's going to be near it. If he doesn't catch it, he's going to be right there. Terrific, terrific player.”

Yet, as Wednesday’s catch showed, Meadows’ defense is about a lot more than speed.

Meadows was actually shaded a couple steps toward left-center field for Yankees rookie third baseman Oswald Peraza, who took Wentz’s 2-0 fastball and belted a 398-foot drive toward the depths of right-center. The opposite-field blast had the distance to get out of seven Major League parks, but it barely reached the warning track at that part of Comerica, which gave Meadows a fighting chance despite a 95-percent hit probability according to Statcast.

To defy the percentages, Meadows had to cover 99 feet in 5.2 seconds. Meadows gave himself a head start with an excellent read on the swing and an impressive jump of 3.8 feet. Just as important, he was running near top speed within his first few steps.

From there, Meadows was on the move and closing in, each stride from his 6-foot-5 frame seemingly swallowing distance. But to get his glove on Peraza’s drive, he still had to make one more move, leaping in stride and extending his arm over his head. He not only brought it down, but had just enough room to brace himself as he ran into the padding of the wall.

Meadows ultimately covered 101 feet on the catch, the second time this homestand he has covered 100 or more feet to make a grab. But for the first time, he reached elite sprint speed to do so, topping out at the threshold of 30.0 feet per second. He fell just shy of that mark on his triple last week, topping out at 29.9.

This is why scouts remained bullish on Meadows over the last few years while he figured out his approach at the plate and rounded out his impressive game. It’s also why the Tigers were so confident about installing Meadows in center on a regular basis upon his arrival and letting him learn on the job, even at the expense of moving Riley Greene -- himself the author of many highlight catches in center in just over a year there -- to the corners.

“Obviously it’s pretty early to make any judgments,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “but he’s clearly a very good center fielder. And it’s not even that play. The miraculous ones are fun to see. It’s the positioning on [Ben] Rortvedt’s ball in left-center field where he’s camped. It’s coming in pretty quickly to stop a maybe double into a single.

“He’s starting to communicate a little bit better and get comfortable being the center of attention out there for both Riley [in right field] and Akil [Baddoo in left] tonight. He’s very comfortable at the big league level. He’s got a lot to learn and a lot to experience. The great plays, of course, but [for] just the normal, average plays, he’s pretty good.”