On Monday evening, Riley Greene played a defensive position other than center field for the first time in his big league career. When the Tigers took the field against the Cubs in the top of the first inning, Greene was in right field, while the newly recalled Parker Meadows was manning center in his MLB debut.
Meadows has been a center fielder since he was taken out of high school in the second round of the 2018 draft. Baseball America praised his fielding this offseason, naming him the best defensive outfielder in the Tigers’ system and giving his glove a 60 (plus) on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Meanwhile, Greene has posted middling to below-average marks in center field.
In 79 games this season, he has committed five errors and recorded only one outfield assist. Defensive Runs Saved has pegged Greene as eight runs below average in 675 innings. Only Esteury Ruiz and Víctor Robles have a lower DRS at the position. Statcast hasn’t been quite so bearish, pegging Greene as exactly a league average defender.
Regardless, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch and president of baseball operations Scott Harris suggested that Meadows would take over the primary center field duties (links via Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press and Cody Stavenhagen of the Athletic). While Hinch stressed that the move “doesn’t mean (Greene’s) days in center are over,” it seems Meadows will get the bulk of the playing time there down the stretch.
The mixed at best defensive reviews aren’t completely unexpected. Most prospect evaluators suggested Greene was likely to wind up in a corner spot even as he was coming through the minor league ranks. While Greene has decent speed, the spacious Comerica Park outfield leaves a lot of ground to cover.
As Harris pointed out, Greene has also dealt with a pair of significant lower body injuries. He broke his right foot during last year’s Spring Training — an injury that quite likely delayed his MLB debut by a few months — and suffered a stress fracture in his left leg this May. It’s possible that slightly lightening his defensive responsibilities could help him avoid future injury.
Greene also simply hits well enough that he doesn’t need to stick in center field to be a valuable player. His .838 OPS and 133 wRC+ would rank third among AL outfielders if he had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. The former fifth overall pick has always been regarded as an offense-first player. That’s not the case for Meadows, whose profile comes with some swing-and-miss concerns.
Meadows has hit .256/.337/.474 through 517 Triple-A plate appearances on the season. That’s roughly average offense in a very hitter-friendly setting at the top minor league level. Meadows has power potential and draws a decent number of walks but has run slightly elevated whiff numbers throughout his career. That includes a higher than average 23.8% strikeout percentage this season. There’d be more leeway for Meadows to be an everyday player if he’s playing in the middle of the diamond than in a corner, where the offensive expectations are a bit higher.