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Player Review: Wade Meckler

A natural hitter without much power—he’s had to work harder than anyone else to be given a chance in baseball, and he’ll have to work even harder to stick around.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

2023 stats: (MLB) 20 games, 64 PA, .232/.328/.250, wRC+ 72, 39.1 K%, 9.4 BB%, .419 BABIP

It’s fitting that Wade Meckler’s name follows Luis Matos alphabetically, thus chronologically canonized in the McCovey Chronicles 2023 Player Review Bible. For a summer, their names were tied. Same position, shared youth, chasing each other through the San Francisco Giants farm system.

Meckler started the season in High-A Eugene. He was called up to Double-A Richmond (after casually hitting .456 over 20 games) on May 17th—the same day Luis Matos was promoted from Richmond to Sacramento. 39 games in Richmond in which he dipped into our atmosphere, hitting .336 with an .881 OPS, meant a jump up to Triple-A on August 1st. Two weeks later, after slashing .371/.456/.510 over 83 games and 363 PA in the Minors, Meckler was the hot hand. His call to the Show—his fourth level of professional ball in four months—meant Matos’s demotion to Sacramento.

The pair finally became teammates a week later, rotating around each other in the outfield for nine games, sandwiching Austin Slater in center, or Meckler pushing Matos to a corner, or one pinched for the other in the lineup, until Matos was sent back down again. On September 6th, they swapped for the final time—Meckler getting the boot back to Triple-A for the rest of the season.

Like trading in two dimes and a nickel for three nickels and a dime, the difference between prospects were nominal in terms of on-field performance last season. Neither Meckler or Matos or a combination of them with Yastrzemski or Slater or Conforto or Haniger or Pederson was ever the outfield iteration that held “the answer” for the Giants. Both rookies quickly felt the whiplash from going to the PCL to MLB—like unexpectedly missing a step while walking down the stairs. The numbers dropped, meaningful results scant, not to mention the steep learning curve and pressure of commanding center field at the highest level.

Though they are far from the same player, a lot of Meckler’s and Matos’s value comes from the same place: their ability to make contact. See ball, hit ball is just as fundamental to baseball as it was yesterday, and what Meckler brings to a big league lineup is an ability to not just put the bat on the ball, but also do it in an effective way.

His 45.2 sweet-spot percentage (hitting the ball with an effective launch angle) last season ranked 4th in all of Major League Baseball (min. 50 PA). His .419 batting average of balls in play led the Giants by a wide margin and was good for 4th in the MLB. Insert small sample size caveat here, but this knack of his was known when they signed him. What makes this type of contact more threatening is his understanding of the strike zone: Meckler spit on 4 out of 5 pitches he saw out of the zone. Pitchers hate hitters that don’t chase, combine that with a low whiff rate (16 percent in the Minors in 2023) and proper contact, Meckler could be a mosquito with three proboscises.

The problem for Meckler is that those are the only tools at his disposal. He’ll make the man on the mound uncomfortable, he’ll make him itch, scratch, paw at his ear, grumble, piss him off—but any real damage done will be rare.

Shorter than Matos and slightly heavier due to the various chips on his shoulder carried from his time as a walk-on at Oregon State consistently passed-over by scouts, Meckler has never been billed as a power threat. His Statcast Hard-Hit rate was 22.6%, and his average exit velocity was 82.4 MPH. His 1.000-plus OPS at A+ ball came with 9 extra base hits, with only 2 home runs and 1 triple.

He knows his strength is not his strength, and didn’t shy away from pointing out to Amy G that a single in every at-bat still gets you an OPS of 2.000. The point being he doesn’t have to hit the ball for power to still be an offensive threat, and while average will never carry the weight it once had in our consciousness, it still means something—especially when followed by someone who hits 25 home runs. A lineup needs to be diversified. Meckler’s skill-set might not earn him everyday playing rights but would give the Giants an interesting dimension off the bench.

But what really undermined Meckler’s work was his skyrocketing whiff and strikeout rate once he put on the Giants uniform. A low chase rate doesn’t mean much if pitchers don’t have to make you chase to get you out. He struck out nearly 40% of the time—more than double his rate in lower professional levels. What probably set that up was an overly selective approach (he swung at only 53% of pitches in the zone, 4th lowest in MLB), then swung through strikes nearly 27% of the time. Opposite his reputation, he made life a lot easier on pitchers.

Whiffs are forgiven if you blast a sucker every 20 trips to the plate. Putting the ball in play is Meckler’s bread-and-butter, but he doesn’t have much power to atone for swing-and-miss sins if they develop.

Another curious thing about Wade Meckler is his speed. He’s got a lot of it, and it clearly serves him well. His only extra base hit with the Giants came on a ball that didn’t get past the right fielder. He beat out a pretty routine ground ball to Xander Bogaerts for an infield single. It feels a little ungrateful to be nitpicky about a resource that San Francisco is in desperate need of, but Meckler’s speed isn’t as dynamic as you’d hope because it has never translated into base stealing. He’s a rabbit, not a fox. The run hasn’t been bolstered by instinct. A shame considering that if he could pair a high batting average with a high rate of success swiping second, suddenly all these singles produce a similar offensive effect as doubles.

Big picture: Wade Meckler’s 2023 was nothing but a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming success. A little over a year ago, he was playing college ball at Oregon State, now he’s got a big league average. That’s crazy for a single slapper.

He has in no way “made it.” We can point to the ramshackle state of the outfield last year and say that is why Meckler’s cup of coffee turned into a bit of a brunch. Consider the other rookies and prospects he’ll have to leap frog to get playing time as well. Matos, Heliot Ramos, Tyler Fitzgerald, Vaun Brown, and Grant McCray—all of them have greater power potential than Meckler while some have even better raw speed and base running instincts. His specific talents put him at a disadvantage already, he’ll have to figure out how to elevate some of his established skills to distinguish himself and make himself a viable option for Bob Melvin or Farhan Zaidi.

The road wasn’t easy before and it doesn’t get much easier. I can’t imagine Meckler will play much of a part for the 2024 Giants—and I write that hoping he feels the weight of another chip on his shoulder. Competitiveness might be his best asset, and great competitors turn critique into disparagement, then feast.