BRADENTON, Fla. – If one thing has been apparent with the recent roster moves by the Pirates, it’s that they aren’t relying solely on Austin Meadows.
The organization definitely hasn’t given up on him. There will be a spot for him when he’s ready.
But they’re not leaving that spot open until then.
The Pirates made a series of moves leading into, and then at the start of Spring Training. They added Daniel Nava to play in a platoon in left field. They added Bryce Brentz to compete for a bench and possible platoon role. They added Michael Saunders to compete for the starting left field spot. Then they traded for Corey Dickerson to be their starting left fielder, having control of him for two seasons.
Saunders was eventually released, and Nava had back surgery that will keep him out for about three months. But Dickerson is set as the third outfielder in Pittsburgh, and Brentz looks like he could be the guy off the bench.
That leaves Meadows in Triple-A, trying to break into the majors with three starters who have put up a 2.4 fWAR or greater all ahead of him. The Pirates’ focus on adding a productive outfielder, rather than waiting on Meadows, is a big change from their approach heading into the 2016 season, when they added more stopgap types while waiting on their prospects. The new approach has added some motivation for Meadows.
“I see it as guys to look up to and to just go out everyday and work harder and harder,” Meadows said. “Just trying to go out there and work hard. Always having that mindset to always out-work someone. That’s my motivation. For me, it’s more whether it comes to practice or anything like that, just trying to work harder than the other person.”
For the longest time, Meadows was seen as the heir apparent to Andrew McCutchen in the outfield. The Pirates would be able to part ways with McCutchen because they had Meadows. But injuries for Meadows derailed those plans. He knows that the biggest way to work his way back into the mix is to avoid the injuries going forward.
“Nothing is ever given to you,” Meadows said. “You’ve always got to earn it. Obviously I’ve always had to earn it. I’ll continue to have to earn it. I’m just worried about going out each and every day, and my biggest goal is staying healthy. When I say healthy, I can do a lot of good things on the baseball field. I can contribute to the team in a lot of different ways. I think for me that’s the biggest goal for Spring Training is taking care of myself in order to be healthy, and let my game play for itself.”
Meadows spent a lot of time this offseason doing full body training, going to a trainer in his area for one-on-one approach, rather than a group setting like he did in the past. The goal here is that he has someone monitoring him at all times to make sure he’s doing things right, and making sure that he’s addressing the right workouts. He’d post videos often to his Instagram account, similar to the one below:
The injury history for Meadows has been so extensive that you can’t be optimistic about any approach keeping him healthy. It’s good to hear that he’s taking an adjusted approach, while also seeing a further increase on his conditioning. But he’s going to have to show that he can stay healthy, which would then allow him to develop enough to show that he can work his way to the majors.
There’s still a spot for Austin Meadows in Pittsburgh one day. That spot is filled right now by Corey Dickerson, and the Pirates have the option to keep Dickerson around for next year. But Meadows still has the talent to change that plan and work his way back into the picture as the top option. He just needs to stay healthy enough to allow that talent to shine through.