Austin Meadows Already Showing Why the Pirates Gave Him an Aggressive Promotion

The typical progression for a young player in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization is to spend a complete season in West Virginia. This usually happened a year or two after being drafted out of high school or coming to the US, and in most cases it was required before getting a promotion to a higher level. In the past, if a player didn’t get a complete year at the level — as was seen with Josh Bell and Luis Heredia — they would return to the level the following season for further development.

That’s not the case this year with Austin Meadows. The Pirates gave him an aggressive push to Bradenton at the start of the season, despite the fact that he only spent half a year in West Virginia in 2014.  The numbers last year were solid, but Meadows is young, and there is no immediate need for outfield help in the Majors, which is why it was surprising that the Pirates promoted him.

Then again, it’s not that surprising if you look at his talent. He’s an athletic player who has the range for center field, but the arm strength to eventually move to left. That’s fine, because he’s got the bat speed, approach at the plate, and raw power potential to handle a corner outfield spot. In his brief debut in High-A, he has already put those skills on display.

“He had a great Spring Training. It’s a new leap for him,” Bradenton manager Michael Ryan said. “He’s a young player for the league, and it’s going to take some adjustment. But his approach is going to allow him to have success.”

Meadows is off to a hot start, going 8-for-21 with a double and a homer. The home run came on Sunday, when he worked the count full in his first at-bat in the game, before depositing a homer over the bullpen in right field at McKechnie. The hot start is just a continuation of how he looked at the plate all Spring.

It’s early in the season, and 21 at-bats is nothing of a sample size to go on, even when you add the Spring Training results, but the skill that Meadows has at the plate can be seen by how teams are already pitching around him. In the third game of the season, he came up with a runner at third base and two outs. The amount of pitches he got in the zone before walking? Zero.

It was even more obvious the next day against St. Lucie. Bradenton had runners on first and third with two outs, and a one run lead. Despite the two outs, the opposing pitcher was more focused on trying to pick Michael Fransoso off first base. When he actually pitched to Meadows, he was pitching around him. And then with a full count, rather than throwing the payoff pitch, he worked himself into a balk trying another pickoff attempt. Another run scored, and Meadows was walked on the next pitch on a ball nowhere near the plate.

“In my opinion, I think that they were pitching around him in that situation,” Ryan said. “I don’t know what was going on, but I know Meadows had something to do with it.”

Meadows spent the off-season working on a new hand position, dropping his hands to shorten his swing, which will allow him to recognize breaking pitches better, and allow him to tap into his raw power more often.

“I feel like I’m in a stronger position,” Meadows said about the hand position. “I’ve been working on it. Not really focused on mechanical things as much as the approach, especially into the season.”

He’s looking much better this year against breaking pitches than he did when he first entered the system in 2013. There have been some bad swings, such as a strikeout on a curveball in the dirt on Saturday, but the frequency of those bad swings has been lowered.

“I think the recognition is good, and we’re continuing to get better,” Bradenton hitting coach Ryan Long said. “Embrace how he’s going to be pitched this year. Some of these other teams, they’re going to pitch him tough. And we see it as a good thing, going to make him better in the long run.”

The Pirates have Meadows leading off in Bradenton, solely with the goal of guaranteeing he hits in the first inning, and also increasing his at-bats throughout the year to make up for some lost time last year. So far, it doesn’t look like he has needed to make up for much of anything at the plate.

Defensively he looks good from a range perspective. In fact, he looks very Andrew McCutchen-like in center field at times. That’s not to say he has the same range as McCutchen, but Meadows has emulated some of the traits the MVP shows on the field. This was shown over the weekend when he ranged in for a shallow fly ball, and made a sliding catch to his side, similar to how McCutchen makes the feet-first sliding catch. Meadows said he got that approach from watching McCutchen.

“I’ve been watching him for a long time, and the way he catches balls like that, it’s pretty impressive,” Meadows said. “So I kind of picked up on that from him. Just the sliding catch is a little bit easier on your body.”

The irony here is that Meadows and McCutchen could be tied together very closely in the future. McCutchen is under team control through the 2018 season, with many starting to wonder if the Pirates should extend him. Meanwhile, Meadows could take a year per level and be ready before the 2018 season. If all goes well with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, and all goes well with the development for Meadows, then you could see a situation where the Pirates use Meadows as the eventual replacement for McCutchen in Pittsburgh.

That’s still several years away. For now, the focus is on Meadows developing his bat to reach his full upside. So far, the results have been very encouraging.

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  • If Meadows continues to move quickly through the minors and Polanco/Marte continue developing at major league level… Do the Bucs trade McCutchen with a year left? It’s hard to imagine Cutch being traded… But the return could be huge.

    • I doubt they trade Cutch in the scenario you suggest. Much more likely one of the others gets traded. As of today, Polanco is the one most likely to be moved for Meadows, but much can change in 3 years.

      • I hate to say it and I do not want it to be true but the pirates are more than likely to trade cutch at some point, it’s a reality of baseball that I don’t like, that does not mean that it’s not true

      • Idk, it’ll be tough to ignore how much sense it makes to trade Cutch. He’ll be the closet to FA, in line to make a buttload, be the oldest of the group, and command the largest return (likely). The emotional pull is likely to be the only huge factor against trading him, which is understandable.

        • Is that really true, though?

          How much sense would it make to trade Cutch, when the team is at the top of the win curve and he’s so inexpensive when the market clearly isn’t offering up massive prospect packages for guys with only a year of control remaining?

          Impossible to tell this far out what the clubs needs will be, but you have to consider the fact that they’d be trading what will likely be around a 5-6 win player to a competitor, for maybe one elite prospect and a couple B’s. Not sure the math works out, let alone the emotion.

          • Maybe 1 elite and a few B prospects seems low for arguably a top 5 player in baseball. Each market is different, so you cant ever tell what you can demand but i cant see PIT trading him just to do so. I dont think its clear that “the market clearly isnt offering up massive prospect packages” because thats assuming you can take the market in one year and have it predict future markets. Last year surely was product light, but that in no way means its a trend where there wont be a team or two willing to make that deal.

            I agree if the market plays out into a “decent” return you keep him. But in the idea that we “could” have 4 guys for 3 spots, Cutch makes the most sense to trade if possible since the prospect issues applies to any trade and he would have the highest value. Trading Marte or Polanco would likely have to be contingent on the team knowing Cutch is likely to resign again.

            • Ok. Then find me the last market where one of the trades you suggest is possible actually happened.

              • Find a market where one of the best players in baseball was traded? C’mon, thats not comparable to about 90% of any trade in any year. At best it’d be using “really good” players that were moved for basically prospect only returns. Its rare, i admit that. But really its rare because the team selling almost always looks for 1 ML ready or ML current player in the deal….where as PIT is a rare case where they might not demand more than 1 player super close to the majors.

                Nothing about a trade of Cutch will be easy to predict based on past markets, because they differ year to year and you rarely see that talent on the market. As for “possible” 2008 saw the Sabathia deal of good player for prospect only. 2009 had the Lee deal for 4 prospects (in fact, Lee was the king of for prospect trades for about 1.5 years). 2011 had the Ubaldo deal. Thats a decent run of 2-4 years where the league saw a “big name” talent move for a prospect only return. None of those guys would have the track record of Cutch (Assuming he keeps up his current level of play) except for Lee.

      • Exactly, Meadows is at high A, many other more immediate things to fret over. Ultimately it depends on where the Pirates are overall, far from exact comparisons, but the Rays let Carl Crawford walk, the Braves traded Justin Upton with a year left.

  • meh…I used to make that sliding catch in softball. Cutch got it from me!!!

    🙂

  • With all the talent the pirates have in the system they really don’t have the luxury of keeping guys at a level like they used to, not that meadows did not earn a promotion it’s just part of being a winning organization.

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