Tigers demote Parker Meadows in a break from their ideal script

DETROIT — In an ideal scenario for the 2024 Detroit Tigers, Parker Meadows would be roaming center field with grace and aggression. He would be tracking down balls left and right. He would be working counts, reaching base and letting his speed shine. When pitchers made mistakes, he would pummel them. He would show consistent signs of being the team’s center fielder for years to come.

For 85 plate appearances, the Tigers clung to this vision. Meadows’ defense and base running alone made him valuable to a team strong in pitching but weak in offense. Finally, though, the challenges became insurmountable. Especially with Wenceel Pérez emerging from nowhere and earning increasing playing time, the at-bats for Meadows began to dwindle. Less than two weeks ago, the Tigers were resistant to the idea of sending Meadows to Triple A. But after losing four games in a row, with a bevy of left-handed pitching coming up on the schedule and with Meadows hitting .096, the decision finally came Monday night in Cleveland. The Tigers demoted Meadows to Triple-A Toledo. In his place they recalled utility player Ryan Vilade, an offseason signing who has three games of MLB experience with the Colorado Rockies.

“(Meadows’) time in general was getting cut where he wasn’t playing as much,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Even the games he did, I was hitting for him. And that’s not the player or the role we want him to be.”

Meadows’ struggles threw a major wrinkle into the Tigers’ plans. He was getting beat by fastballs, hitting only .077. He was making weak contact, averaging an exit velocity of only 84.6 mph. His strikeout rate was an abysmal 37.6 percent. He was getting beat on pitches up and away but also being fooled by breaking balls and off-speed pitches below the zone. Meadows often looked overmatched, and in an order populated with other struggling hitters, it became too much to bear.

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Along with the struggles of Spencer Torkelson (whom Hinch said the Tigers are not considering demoting) and Colt Keith, Meadows’ underperformance represents a case of this season venturing from its ideal script.

“I actually think his at-bats the last couple of times we put him in there were a little bit better,” Hinch said. “He drew a few walks. He hit a few balls on the barrel to the outfield. It was more about what are the best interests for him and for us short term and long term. He needs to play, and to take advantage of that defense that he can offer and defend himself with the bat, he really needs to be in the lineup.”

The Tigers recalled Vilade rather than a more recognizable name such as Akil Baddoo or Justyn-Henry Malloy for a few reasons. Vilade made more sense than Baddoo because of the number of left-handers the Tigers will face in the next 10 days, beginning with Cleveland Guardians left-hander Logan Allen on Tuesday. Vilade is a right-handed hitter, and though he is hitting only .231 against lefties in the minors this season, he has hit left-handers well for most of his major-league career.

Malloy is a more hailed prospect with a .424 on-base percentage in Toledo, but he has been “banged up” and has not played since Friday. Vilade’s defensive versatility also helped his case. Along with Pérez, Matt Vierling and perhaps even Riley Greene, Vilade is expected to help fill Meadows’ spot in center field. He also plays left field, right field and first, second and third base. Malloy, meanwhile, is regarded as a below-average defender who is limited to the outfield corners.

Vilade was promoted after hitting .333 with three home runs in his first 27 games this season. He came to the organization over the winter with a reputation for good bat-to-ball skills, but the Tigers wanted him to elevate the ball and generate more power. After a slow spring training, Vilade implemented a leg kick and made other mechanical tweaks to his swing. The early returns were encouraging and could hint at renewed upside for the 25-year-old who was a second-round pick in 2017.



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“The leg kick I think has been good for him,” Hinch said. “He’s been hitting the ball hard, he’s been hitting the ball often, he’s been hitting the ball all over the place. The numbers have come with it. His versatility, he’s played all over the diamond, which is an advantage especially when you’re considering a bench role. But his adjustment with the leg kick will be something I hope he carries with him here as he tries to impact our roster.”

Vilade’s stint in the majors could ultimately be short as Gio Urshela inches closer to a return from a hamstring injury. But on a team with so many struggling hitters, performance could also be rewarded with a longer stay.

Either way, the plot for Meadows has taken a turn. He must now go to Toledo and work his way back.

“It was time,” Hinch said, “for him to go get some more regular playing time, reset himself, get his timing back and be the player that we expect him to be.”

(Top photo of Meadows: Kim Klement Neitzel / USA Today)

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