Austin Meadows: A Luxury For an Organization Loaded With Quality Outfielders

The Pittsburgh Pirates have no shortage of quality outfielders. They’ve got Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte at the major league level, with Gregory Polanco on the way to possibly provide the best outfield trio in the majors. They’ve got top prospects in the minor leagues, beyond Polanco, who could either shift to first base, serve as depth/eventual replacements for the big three, or be used as a trade chip if needed. One of those top prospects is Austin Meadows, who was taken in the first round of the 2013 draft.

Meadows was one of the top prep hitters in the draft, but fell to the Pirates with the ninth pick in the draft. That pick is looking like an early steal. Jonathan Mayo recently compiled an average list of the various top 100 prospect rankings, and Meadows ranked sixth among 2013 draft picks, coming in at number 51. Three of the players drafted ahead of him were ranked lower, and two other guys ended up just a few spots ahead of him.

A big reason for this was the big season Meadows had after he was drafted. He put up a .918 OPS in the Gulf Coast League in 160 at-bats, with five homers and 11 doubles. That earned him a late season promotion to Jamestown at the end of the year, where he exploded by going 9-for-17 with two home runs in the final five games of the season, along with hits in each of the three playoff games in Jamestown.

“I felt really good,” Meadows said of his pro debut. “Especially in Jamestown, I felt really comfortable in the environment. Being under the lights and the bus trips and all of that. And then being around a bunch of older guys just felt like it was the right place to be.”

The surprising thing about the success Meadows had was that he had that success in two of the most pitcher friendly leagues in the minors. The NYPL is very pitcher friendly, while the GCL is the most pitcher friendly league in the minors. The huge ballparks are a big reason the league is so pitcher friendly, but the weather plays a factor. The games are played at noon in the middle of the summer in Florida, when the sun is beating down on you, and it’s over 90 degrees, with a ton of humidity that makes the air thick.

“I definitely used the cold tub a lot,” Meadows joked about his time in the GCL. “That was my best friend.”

The offense was a huge positive, but it did come at the lowest levels of the minors, and should be expected from a top hitting prospect like Meadows. Like any prospect, he’s not without flaws. A big issue for Meadows was pitch recognition, and trouble with breaking pitches. He had a 22% strikeout rate, which isn’t horrible, but again came at the lowest levels. Seeing him in person, there were some issues with off-speed pitches. Meadows chalked that up to the difference in approaches between high school and pro ball.

“The breaking balls was just kind of a count…especially when you get a 2-0 changeup,” Meadows said. “High schoolers it’s a 2-0 fastball. I felt like I was going to get pretty used to that and know it was going to come a little bit more.”

It’s definitely possible that Meadows just needed to adjust to pro ball and learn when to expect off-speed pitches. It’s also possible that he does have pitch recognition issues that could become an issue in the upper levels. The 2014 season should give a better idea of where Meadows stands with breaking pitches. He’s expected to jump to West Virginia, where he will see plenty of pitchers who have quality breaking stuff that he didn’t see in high school, or the short-season levels. If he does limit the strikeouts in West Virginia, then he could easily be this year’s breakout prospect, propelling himself from a top 50 prospect to a top 10 prospect.

If that happens, then it would give the Pirates an amazing situation for their outfield. Assuming the trio of McCutchen, Marte, and Polanco perform as expected, the Pirates wouldn’t need an outfielder until at least 2019. Even if Meadows goes a level per year, he will be set to arrive in the majors for the start of the 2018 season. That gives the Pirates a lot of options. They could hold Meadows as Andrew McCutchen’s eventual replacement if they can’t extend McCutchen. They could deal Starling Marte during his arbitration years, trying to get a big return while replacing him with Meadows. Or they could deal Meadows for a need, which would work better if they continue developing their other outfield prospects as eventual replacements for the guys in the majors. But that’s not an issue to worry about for a few more years. For now, Meadows will enter the 2014 season looking to take a jump from being a top 50 prospect in the game, to one of the best prospects in the game.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • B Thomas

    Or move him to 1B if need be. Whats wrong with having a very athletic 6’4 left handed hitting 1B? I know playing him at 1B would hurt his value because of his Speed, but the arm isn’t that great. Whats wrong with having someone who can play 1B and a OF position and also swipe 30 bags a year while doing so? Meadows at 1B makes more sense to me then Josh Bell, who I think needs a lot of work with that swing still.

    • Lee Young

      you don’t move a guy to 1b that low in the minors, esp one as athletic as Meadows.

      • B Thomas

        I’m not, its just like the Bell to 1B suggestions. Its when Meadows is close to major league ready, and if there is a opening at 1B I think he can fit the bill. I wouldn’t even put Stetson Allie at 1B in the minors I would prefer if they let him play 3B. He can move to 1B later.

        • meatygettingsaucy

          in all likelihood, if Meadows is raking at AA/AAA and he is blocked in the OF, they would move him, either for major league help or to 1B, if there is an opening. Hence, the greatness of having a deep farm. No matter what, you get help

  • Lee Young

    I don’t think he is a luxury. Hopefully, he is ready by the time Marte gets too expensive?

    Also, although I am excited, until he does it, at least at AA, I will temper my enthusiasm.

  • The Masked robshelb

    .

    Meadows is the (probably bright) future, but now is the now.

    Which raises a question, namely, what does MLB.com know that some of us (not moi) don’t. And I quote from their web-site this morning —

    “Burnett, who last year helped Pittsburgh reach the postseason for the first time since 1992, signed a one-year, $16 million contract with Philadelphia last month. Stolmy Pimentel, a candidate to replace Burnett in the Pirates’ rotation, toes the rubber for the Bucs.” [Italics added although I really didn't need to because this obviously is Starting Pitcher destiny + karma unfolding itself out.]

    Let’s go Stolmy !!! ST today, SP tomorrow !! Horray !!!

    If Pimentel is on his game today, I wonder how long CH will allow him to pitch.

    One of the many things I don’t know, this early in ST, is if potential Starting Pitchers are on inning counts or pitch counts ??

    One way or the other, I want to see Pimentel go at least seven innings this afternoon. That’s a minimum of twenty-one batters faced. Throw in two more via accidental base hits. That’s twenty-three. At an average of 1.45 pitches thrown per batter, that means that Stolmy is going to have to meet or beat the challenge of throwing only 33.35 pitches today before his work load is done.

    You watch, I think he can get it done. And I bet that final 35/100th of a pitch will be just as devastating as will be the first one he throws. (That’s his three finger, reverse English, double-loop, hybrid curving slider pitch. Comes roaring into towards the plate so quickly that the batters only see 0.35% of it . . .)

    And the $16 million man can just eat his own heart out.

    The Phillies fans today are about to learn a difficult and painful lesson. That is, that we have Stolmy Pimentel, and the don’t.
    .

    • John Dreker

      In Spring Training, pitchers are on both innings and pitch count limits. Usually the first start is 2ip or 35 pitches. If they don’t reach their pitch count in their two innings, they will go down to the bullpen and finish pitching. Since Pimentel went 2 innings during the Black & Gold game, he will be stretched out a little more, usually one inning at a time added.

      • piratemike

        test

      • The Masked robshelb

        .
        Mr. Dreker,

        Thanks for the info. Watching the game right now. I can’t believe a Phillie actually got a hit off Stolmy in the first inning. What a disappointment. Oh well.

        btw, I got your back on bringing up El Coffee late in April. Are we planning any sort of mass rally/demonstration on or about April 21st ??

        If so, I can carry a placard, and maybe bring a couple plates of sushi. We’ll see how far that will go around.

        1-2-3 second for Stormin’ Stolmy.

        Much better.

        As expected.
        .

        • The Masked robshelb

          .
          Phillie announcer right now on MLB.TV —

          “I can understand why the Pirates are so excited about Pimentel.”
          .

        • John Dreker

          I’m not holding my breath for an April call-up. I could see them wanting to save money down the line as opposed to getting two extra months from him, but I also see a roster that has Liriano, Rodriguez, Grilli and Martin all in their last year, so I wouldn’t mind them going for it this year. They were willing to spend on Loney and Burnett, so take that money and put it away for down the line, where it will cover the extra cost of Polanco. If Tabata and/or Snider is doing well early, then you have the option of leaving Polanco down until he is needed, but I wouldn’t let the super-two status dictate when he is ready. I’d definitely start him in the minors though to get an extra year out of him. That’s a no-brainer.

          • The Masked robshelb

            .
            Mr. Dreker,

            Oh well. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be will be.

            Patience is a vastly over-rated virtue, imo.

            otoh, by now I am also officially on the Chris Dickerson bandwagon. Where has he been all our Buccos’ lives ??? Smacks a hard double to the fence, drives in two runs today (so far), almost makes a spectacular running, diving catch.

            Can’t have too many 6-foot four hard hitting, hard playing, talented outfielders.

            Right now, by contrast, Tabata is so far down on my RF depth chart that someone is going to have to send him a miner’s helmet.

            regards
            .

  • conman21

    Love the site Tim. Been an avid reader for last few years. Now I guess I’ll throw a comment in every once in a while.

  • iChuck33

    He pulled his hamstring today rounding 1st base. Hopefully he makes a full recovery…

    • Y2JGQ2

      he being who?

      • iChuck33

        Meadows