Detroit Tigers promoted Parker Meadows as center fielder. So what happens to Riley Greene?

Detroit Free Press

Riley Greene handled the situation like a true professional.

The Detroit Tigers promoted 23-year-old outfielder Parker Meadows — a second-round pick in the 2018 draft — for his MLB debut in Monday’s series opener against the Chicago Cubs at Comerica Park. Once that happened, Greene officially lost his role as the everyday center fielder.

And Meadows took over as the Tigers’ primary center fielder.

“We hope it’s going to take a little bit of a load off his body,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Monday of the move for Greene. “He’s going to move all around the outfield, and he’s versatile enough to do it. He’s done it throughout his whole career. I think the best part about the conversation with Riley was that he’s all-in from the very beginning.”

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Monday’s lineup featured Meadows in center field and Greene in right.

Greene hadn’t started in right since June 2022, when he spent seven innings there with Triple-A Toledo during a rehab assignment. Coming out of the 2019 MLB draft, scouts projected Greene — that year’s No. 5 overall pick — would move to the corner outfield positions at some point in his career.

“I have no problem with it,” Greene said Monday. “I told (Hinch), ‘Whatever I can do to help the team, I’ll do it.’ Whether that’s me playing right, left, center, bench, wherever it is, I’ll help. It is what it is.”

Meadows, the best defensive outfielder in the Tigers’ organization, is expected to start in center at spacious Comerica Park for the entire three-game series against the Cubs.

The Tigers believe Meadows will provide a significant upgrade in center field.

“I think it gives us one of the more athletic and one of the more dynamic outfield defenses in all of baseball,” Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said Monday. “I think it’s also a good way to protect Riley. He’s been banged up, especially his lower-half injuries, over the past few years. Managing the workload through moving him off from center field to right field and plugging in a guy who we think could be a plus defensive outfielder in center field is a great problem to have.”

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Greene, the Tigers’ best position player, is hitting .303 with 11 home runs in 88 games in 2023. The 22-year-old has played 181 games over his two-year MLB career, with 172 games in center and nine games at designated hitter.

But Greene has been worth minus-7 defensive runs saved and zero outs above average in center field this season.

“It doesn’t matter who’s out there, I would never take anything as a knock (on my defense),” Greene said. “Parker is a hell of an outfielder. He’s fast, and he can go get it. When I’m next to him, I’m going to try my best to help him out. I told him, he’s the boss out there in center field, so take charge and tell me where to go.”

Greene often excels on plays toward third base, according to Statcast data, but sometimes struggles on plays coming in and toward first base. He ranks below-average in outfield jump and above-average in arm strength.

The deep gap in right-center field should be well covered by Meadows and Greene.

Still, Greene has roamed center for nearly two years with the Tigers, making an abundance of epic diving catches in the process — so many that the Tigers’ bobblehead giveaway of Greene last month featured him in full dive.

He suffered a broke bone in his right foot in April 2022 and a stress reaction in his left fibula in May 2023.

Keeping Greene away from center will reduce the stress on his legs.

“Any outfielder will tell you, you still got to run a lot,” Hinch said, comparing center field and right field, “and it’s a big pounding to take in the outfield. The walls are still there. The dives are still there.”

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Meadows, a left-handed hitter, joins the Tigers after playing 113 games in Triple-A Toledo this season. He hit .256 with 27 doubles, seven triples, 19 home runs, 57 walks and 123 strikeouts, as well as stealing 19 bases in 21 attempts.

He had an .818 OPS in 384 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, as well as an .821 OPS in 134 plate appearances against left-handers. His ability to crush righties and lefties could make him a lineup lock for the Tigers.

On defense, Meadows logged 773⅓ innings in center field, 136 innings in left field and 40 innings in right field with the Mud Hens. He has been the everyday center fielder throughout his entire professional career.

Meadows felt nervous before Monday’s game.

“It’s pretty surreal,” he said.

But Meadows also seemed confident in his ability to command center field into the future with the Tigers.

“It’s the same game,” Meadows said. “It’s the same game I’ve always been playing, no matter who’s next to me. Riley being out there and being able to cover all that ground will free me up a little bit, and he’ll keep me loose out there. I know he likes to talk because I’ve played with him out there before. I’m excited for it.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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