ALTOONA – Austin Meadows went 1-for-4 in his first night back to Double-A Altoona, with his lone hit being a broken bat infield single in his first at-bat. He went on to strikeout once and groundout twice later in the game. Even with little success in the game, Meadows said that he felt ready to go tonight.
“I feel like I’m well prepared,” Meadows said. “I was getting a lot of reps down in Pirate City, and I feel good right now.”
— Sean McCool (@NotSoMcCool) April 25, 2016
Meadows did play well in center field, tracking a few long fly balls including one that took him into the wall in the top of the 9th inning.
After the game, it was revealed by Curve manager Joey Cora that Meadows will get the opportunity to play some corner outfield this season, a chance for him to get some reps just in case an opportunity would present itself down the road.
“You never know what a big league team will need by the time he is ready,” Cora said. “The position that is open could be left, right, or center. Who knows? It’s our job to get him ready for that.”
It might be difficult to imagine how Meadows could enter the Pirates’ outfield mix anytime soon. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are both under team control for several years, while Andrew McCutchen is under control through the 2018 season. Cora referenced the Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock, who had elbow surgery in the beginning of April and could be out for the season, as an example of how playing time can open up.
“You never know what can happen,” Cora said. “How many times do we see it happen? That guy from Arizona, A.J. Pollock, he gets hurt the first day of the season. Then what? It could happen to anybody. Then, who is the best player available? It might be Meadows at a time when they need a left fielder. If he has never played there, that’s on me. You have to be ready for anything.”
Meadows has never played any corner outfield for a Pirates’ affiliate, but he did get the opportunity to play some right field (and once in left) in the Arizona Fall League last year. He said that his experience playing some corner outfield in high school will help him in that transition whenever the time might come that he plays somewhere other than center field.
“I think that the type of player I am, I like to take pride in my defense out there,” Meadows said after his first game this year. “I had a lot of fun out there tonight, and you just got to keep pushing forward. I played a little of right and left in the Fall League. I played a little in high school, as well.”
Ultimately, Meadows doesn’t seem to care where he plays as long as he is out there.
“Moving around is fine with me,” said Meadows. “I just want to make a difference out there.”
As for this year, Cora said that he talked to Meadows while he was getting reps in Extended Spring Training, and he was excited to get off the ground rolling.
“We’ve been talking ever since the first day he got hurt in Spring Training,” Cora said. “He’s very happy – extremely happy – to get out of Bradenton. I told him two days ago that finally you are getting free out of jail and will get to play against men rather than kids there in Extended [Spring Training]. He’s extremely happy and looking forward to the opportunity. He’s ready to rock and roll.”
Meadows had nine hits in 25 at-bats when he was promoted to Altoona late last season, but Cora said that he still has plenty to prove at the level.
“He can run, field, hit, hit for power, hit the other way, bunt… he can do just about anything on the field. We’ve been talking about it, though, that the biggest jump to make is from High-A to Double-A. Even though he was here for a week or so last year, it will be interesting to see where he’s at. I’m looking forward to watching him play.”
The Challenge of Getting Everyone Playing Time
With Meadows’ return to the Double-A Altoona roster, an outfield roster crunch immediately occurs. He is sorely needed in center field defensively, with Harold Ramirez struggling to get a stronghold on the position. Ramirez moves to an easier corner outfield spot, leaving one more open position in the outfield. That spot will presumably go to Barrett Barnes on a regular basis, but you also have Stetson Allie performing extremely well to start the season, and serving as another candidate.
With Meadows back, the Curve have the Pirates Prospects’ #2 (Meadows), #6 (Ramirez), and #23 (Barnes) prospects in the forefront. As the Pirates have arguably the best outfield in the majors, the Curve may have the best outfield in Double-A with those three players; however, Stetson Allie has earned his playing time while Meadows was on the shelf. Allie has a .355 on-base percentage and an OPS of .828. He has made improvements both at the plate and in the field. He just turned 25 years old (the average age of the Eastern League is 24.5 years old), and he has the best raw power of anyone in the Pirates’ system.
How do you get all of these guys playing time?
“That will be on me,” Cora said. “That’s my job to try to get everybody in the lineup. Everybody’s going to have an opportunity to play. Obviously, some people are going to get more time than others, but everyone is going to get an opportunity.”
Cora isn’t all talk either. He has already done a great job spreading around the at-bats in April. All of the outfielders have regularly gotten into games (Justin Maffei was moved to Extended Spring Training with Meadows being activated), Jin-De Jhang has gotten about 1/3 of the games while Reese McGuire has caught the rest. Edwin Espinal has moved between first and third base, while Chris Diaz and Anderson Feliz have split time at shortstop fairly evenly.
Cora laughed when asked about which guys would take priority saying “that’s why they pay me the ‘little buck'” in Altoona.
Cora will have help from the schedule makers over the next month, as the Curve play 24 out of their next 34 games (end of May) against American League affiliates. In those games, they are able to use the designated hitter, which allowed Allie, Jhang, and Espinal to get at-bats.