LAKELAND, Fla. — Earlier this week, Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch praised the performance of Parker Meadows in a team meeting. Over the weekend, the 23-year-old prospect blasted two home runs against the Atlanta Braves.
His older brother, of course, was involved in the clubhouse conversation.
“We made a big deal out of Parker getting a couple homers while his brother continues to hit ground balls,” Hinch said. “I try to lighten the mood a little bit. That allows Parker to settle in nicely.”
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Since then, Parker has been optioned to Triple-A Toledo. His brother, Austin Meadows, is guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster. As a former All-Star, he is expected to help carry the Tigers in 2023. So far, though, big brother has a 50% ground-ball rate and an 87.7 mph average exit velocity in spring training.
He is still searching for his first home run as a Tiger, regular-season or in spring training.
“I’m trying to be a little bit easy on myself,” Meadows said. “I missed a lot of time last year, and I’m trying to get back to being me. It’s just a matter of time. I think the timing is basically there. For me, it’s just continuing to battle and have good at-bats.”
In Saturday’s game, the Meadows Bros. teamed up to drive in seven runs against the Braves: four runs from Parker’s two home runs and a single, plus three runs from Austin’s two singles.
Both of Austin’s singles were ground balls through the infield.
“Right now, he’s a little steep in his swing,” Hinch said. “He’s trying to get his timing right. We want to get him as many at-bats as we can. When he zones in and gets his timing right, you see some results start to come his way. I know the ball is a little lower launch-wise, but when he starts picking the right pitches to swing at, he’ll be Austin Meadows again.”
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On Monday, Meadows returned to Tropicana Field for the first time since the Tigers acquired him in April 2022 from the Tampa Bay Rays. Amid a “very weird” experience, he faced the Rays’ reigning minor-league pitcher of the year, left-hander Mason Montgomery, in the fifth inning.
Meadows worked a 3-1 count and cranked a fastball with a 100 mph exit velocity. The low line drive zipped past the diving shortstop and rolled into left-center field for a two-run double.
“It’s a good progression,” he said.
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The reality is, Meadows logged 147 plate appearances in 36 games for the Tigers in the 2022 season. He missed significant time with vertigo, COVID-19, bilateral tendinitis in his Achilles tendons and, worst of all, mental health struggles.
The 27-year-old, who finished 14th in American League MVP voting in 2019, spent the entire offseason taking care of his newborn daughter, Adelynne, and working on himself beyond the baseball field. He improved his mental health by working with a team of therapists, then improved his physical health by losing about 20 pounds.
“I’m just glad that I’m back on the field,” Meadows said. “Honestly, the place I was in compared to the place I’m in now, mentally and physically, I’m just trying to put it more in perspective.”
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Four years ago, Meadows hit .291 with 33 home runs in 138 games for the Rays. Two years ago, he hit .234 with 27 homers in 142 games. This spring, he is hitting .226 across 35 plate appearances in 12 games, but having three walks compared to four strikeouts is an encouraging sign.
The key to better results is getting as many plate appearances as possible before the regular season begins March 30.
It’s all part of the process.
“I’ve had to take a step back and realize I’m in a different position than other guys,” Meadows said. “I didn’t play most of last year. I got to continue to grind it out, per se, and try to get back to being me.
“It takes time to get timing and more at-bats under your belt to be as prepared as you can for the season. That’s the goal. But I think we’re on the right track, and I think things are going in a good progression.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.