ALTOONA — With the Altoona Curve being eliminated from the Eastern League Divisional Series over the weekend, it seemed like a great time to take a look at the Pirates’ consensus #2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s #8 outfielder. Austin Meadows was promoted from Single-A Bradenton to Double-A Altoona on September 2nd, just in time to help the club clinch a playoff spot in the final six games of the regular season. Meadows was then arguably the Curve’s best player in their series loss to Bowie. Ultimately, the time spent in Altoona was short, but his impact was great.
Meadows spent the majority of the season in Bradenton and hit extremely well despite being young for the level. He only turned 20 years old in May and was, on average, more than 2½ years younger than the majority of players in the league. The age difference didn’t seem the bother Meadows, as he hit .307 with 22 doubles. More importantly, he was able to stay healthy for a full year, which was something that the young man wanted to accomplish going into this season. He suffered a hamstring injury in training camp before the 2014 season and wasn’t able to return until the end of June. This season was much different, with injuries not affecting him.
While in Bradenton, Meadows slugged .407 to give him an ISO of .100. You would look at that number and think it is not very high; however, the Florida State League is a very difficult league for slugging numbers. Overall, the league average ISO is .089. Meadows ended up finishing first in total bases, third in batting, fifth in OBP, and sixth in slugging out of qualified batters in the FSL.
After his promotion to Double-A Altoona, he went 15-for-40 (.375) with a .700 slugging percentage and 1.140 OPS. In those ten games for the Curve, he had four doubles, three triples, and a home run.
Even as a top prospect in the Pirates system, it speaks a lot to the organization and coaching staff at Bradenton for a player like Meadows to move to Double-A and excel the way that he has, especially given that Meadows was over four years younger than most in the league.
“It says a lot about the organization at first,” Curve Manager Tom Prince said after the Curves’ first playoff win. “Michael Ryan has done a tremendous job down there [in Bradenton]. These kids come up, they fit in, and there is no missed beat. Everybody is doing exactly what they are supposed to do because the system runs that way. You’re talking about some very talented young men.”
In an extremely small sample size, Meadows had an ISO of .325 in Altoona, compared to .100 at his time spent in Bradenton. He had eight extra base hits compared to seven singles. Obviously, you don’t expect a player to have more extra base hits than singles over an extended period of time, but Meadows has shown a great combination of power and speed that you simply cannot teach.
Here is an example of Meadows showing off a combination of both:
Then there is the time you simply don’t need to run the bases too quickly.
His hands are quick. His feet are quick. His head is on straight. And his baseball IQ seems to be off the charts.
Meadows showed the ability to hit line drives as a left-handed bat. Not only showing off the bat, Meadows stole 22 bases total in 2015, while only being able to swipe two bases last year because of the nagging injury.
He also struck out less than he had in his limited at-bats in 2013 and 2014. Between Bradenton and Altoona, Meadows only struck out 14.2% of the time in 2015 compared to 17.6% in 2014 and 21.8% in 2013. This was a result of better recognition of breaking pitches, which was a problem for him when he first came into pro ball.
The numbers speak for themselves about how special of a baseball player Austin Meadows is, but he also has a demeanor and love for the game that just seems contagious from only spending a short amount of time around him. He has an aura that surrounds him that just speaks to him being a special baseball player.
In game one of Altoona’s lone playoff series, Meadows came to the plate down two runs with a runner on in the bottom of the ninth. He proceeded to drive one over the right field wall (seen above), tying a game that was eventually won later in the inning on a walk-off by Jacob Stallings. With shaving cream caked on his face and jersey, he simply said that he’s “just trying to let this all sink in.”
Neal Huntington said that Meadows “didn’t seem to miss a beat” at Double-A Altoona.
“He saw some better and older competition which was great for him to see,” Huntington said. “He seemed like he just folded right in there and played well.”
Asked the difference between the levels, Meadows shared that pitchers “controlled the zone and threw their off-speed pitches for strikes” at the Double-A level compared to Single-A.
The Pirates wanted to challenge Meadows more this fall, sending him to the Arizona Fall League with the hope that he would be able to face more advanced competition.
“Austin is a very advanced player overall,” Neal Huntington said, “and felt that he was absolutely ready [for the AFL].”
Expect to see Meadows begin his 2016 season with Altoona. In any other system, he might be guaranteed to reach Triple-A by the end of the season, but the Pirates can take their time with him, as they have Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco in their current outfield. In 2017, the Pirates may find themselves in a somewhat good predicament with Meadows being ready for the show while McCutchen, Marte, and Polanco are still in Pittsburgh. Time will only tell.