Comstock Park, Mich. — With much of the attention of Tigers fans this week based around a high school outfielder, it was instructive to check in with a couple of youngsters down Interstate-96.
And with the West Michigan Whitecaps, we found a couple of 19-year-olds with potential that also require plenty of patience.
Last week’s MLB Draft brought back memories of last summer for Parker Meadows and Kingston Liniak, as the Tigers used valuable draft capital to gamble on high schooler Riley Greene of Florida.
So instead of heading to Clemson (Meadows) and San Diego (Liniak), the 18-year-olds met in Lakeland, Fla., going in blind as roommates in the dorm like many of their college peers.
Born nine days apart in November 1999 while the country braced for Y2K — about a month after the final game of Tiger Stadium — Meadows called Liniak to help him get his stuff upstairs when he arrived in Lakeland.
They’ve had a considerable bond since then.
“I love the guy, he’s awesome,” Liniak said of Meadows. “Last year we were playing Fortnite a lot. We share a lot of the same interests, food tastes. We like Chili’s a lot, a little too much probably. He likes rap and a little bit of country, and I like that too.”
Like Greene, the players dominated high school competition in baseball hotbeds: Liniak at Mission Hills High School in Los Angeles and Meadows 30 miles east of Atlanta in Loganville, Ga.
They both have baseball in their blood, as Liniak’s father, Justin, was a 1993 draft pick for Colorado and his uncle, Cole Liniak, played two short stints with the Cubs in 1999 and 2000. Meadows’ big brother, Austin Meadows, is breaking out with the Tampa Bay Rays.
But like Tigers’ brass talked about last week with Greene, it’s patience that will be paramount with Meadows and Liniak, who both have the tools to roam the Comerica Park outfield with Greene down the line.
While Austin Meadows is a likely All-Star in just his second MLB season, it’s worth remembering he spent most of six seasons in the minors before becoming a full-time big-leaguer this year.
“He’s told me many times before: It’s a game of failure; you’re going to have your downs,” Parker Meadows said. “The minor leagues is definitely a grind. Heck, baseball is definitely a grind. It’s just something you have to work on.”
The younger Meadows has struggled this season, with his batting average dipping below .200 recently.
“For me, the mental side is where I need to mature a little bit,” Meadows said Wednesday before a Midwest League game against the Dayton Dragons. “You know, I’m only 19 years old, this is my first full season. But I’m excited for the future.”
Whitecaps manager Lance Parrish agreed, saying the center fielder is going to become “something special.”
“He’s just trying to develop some confidence at the plate,” Parrish said. “We’ve worked and worked on mechanics. And sometimes it seems like he’s getting it, and then takes a step backwards and get back to square one.”
Parrish said a loop in Meadows’ swing sometimes causes him to swing under or foul off hittable pitches.
Meadows’ struggles have mirrored West Michigan’s as the Whitecaps entered Sunday with the league's worst record by 2.5 games at 20-41. Meadows was hitting .212 with three home runs and 19 RBIs in 54 games.
On Wednesday, Meadows had good small-ball results, but none of his projected power was displayed: A check-swing and a dribbler down the line resulted in two hits, and he battled back from 0-2 for a seven-pitch walk.
Meadows also committed a throwing error to home plate, allowing a runner who had already stopped running to score after the ball bounced past the catcher.
Perhaps the arrival of Liniak will provide a friendly face to help Meadows’ mental maturation.
Very on brand for a California kid, Liniak plays the guitar to clear his mind, just like this year's second-round pick Nick Quintana of Arizona. Liniak shares all the same tools as the 6-foot-5 Meadows in a 6-2 frame.
Liniak was held in extended spring training but was promoted to West Michigan last week, where Parrish said he will play both corner outfield positions.
“I’ve been getting a lot better with my mental game, I’ve been feeling a lot more calm, and I feel like that’s helped me a lot,” Liniak said. “When I’m at the plate, I press a lot for some reason. But I’ve been working on breathing techniques and stuff to try to make adjustments at the plate.”
It’s the same story Parrish has been working at team-wide for the Whitecaps, who are fourth in the 16-team Midwest League with a .249 batting average. The situational hitting has been the issue, Parrish said.
“Rather than forcing the pitcher to throw them a good pitch, they’re more apt to chase bad pitches because they’re so anxious; they want to get a hit and drive in the run,” Parrish said. “They also need to understand, and we pound it into them every day, that you’re not going to get a good pitch to hit unless you earn it.
"You almost have to be patient to a fault.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.