The Pirates are calling up Austin Meadows today to replace the injured Starling Marte on the active roster. Meadows is the top hitting prospect in the system, and the number two overall prospect.
The callup is earlier than when most top prospects arrive, and that will bring up the Super Two topic. I’ll discuss that in more detail tomorrow morning in the Morning Report. The quick summary is that Meadows isn’t expected to be up for good right now, which makes Super Two a non-issue.
When a prospect is called up for the first time, we provide a scouting report with all of the information we have on the player. This one is free for all (so go ahead and share it), but we offer analysis and information on every prospect in the system throughout the year.
We’re doing a special promotion to celebrate Meadows making his debut. Since Meadows is wearing number 17, we’re offering 17% off subscriptions this weekend. Use the code MEADOWS to get one year for one of our biggest discounts ever. We’re also putting the 2018 Prospect Guide on sale this weekend, with the discount already reflected on the products page.
And now, here is The Book on Austin Meadows.
Where Did Meadows Come From?
The Pirates drafted Mark Appel with the number eight pick in the 2012 draft, but Appel opted to go back to college for another year. That left the Pirates with the number nine pick in the 2013 draft as compensation, which they used to take Meadows.
He immediately became one of the top prospects in the system, in large part due to his hitting skills and raw power. The Pirates were aggressive moving him through the system, sending him to West Virginia during his first full season, then sending him to Bradenton the following year, despite an injury shortened year at the lower level.
He eventually became one of the top prospects in the game once his raw hitting tools started transferring over to the stat line. He made it to Triple-A in 2016, which was his third full professional season, but injuries have slowed his path and prevented him from making the jump until now.
The Injury History
Meadows has dealt with a lot of hamstring injuries during his career. He had two separate hamstring injuries on the same leg in 2014, keeping him out for half of the season. He was healthy in 2015, but missed a lot of time in 2016.
The first injury in 2016 was a freak accident, when a ball skipped up and hit him in the face, breaking his orbital bone. He was able to return, but had another hamstring injury that put him out for a month.
Last year he had a hamstring injury early in the season, then an oblique injury late in the year which finished his season.
Meadows worked on a more rigorous workout plan this offseason, aimed at staying stronger and healthier. So far that has worked out, although his history of injuries would lead to some skepticism about whether he can stay completely healthy going forward.
Meadows has one of the best swings in the system. It’s smooth, quick, and short, but stays through the zone to allow him to make solid contact, with plus contact skills. He’s never been overmatched at the plate, with his strikeout rates remaining low throughout his minor league career.
The power hasn’t always been consistent for him. He started adding power numbers during the 2015 season, but has seen those numbers drop the last two years, and currently has a .099 ISO. Meadows has some speed, can draw walks, and hit for average, but he will need the power production to develop in order to be more than an average starter in the future. He has shown that power in the past, and he still has a lot of raw power in his game, so I think it’s just a matter of adjusting to the upper level pitchers.
Offensively, Meadows has the chance to provide an impact, although a lot of that depends on how much of his power develops. Even without the power, he still projects as a guy who can add value on offense, with the ability for a good average, along with the ability to get on base.
Due to the injuries, he hasn’t fully adjusted to Triple-A over the last two years from a stats standpoint. He currently has a .706 OPS at the level, after undergoing a slump over the last few weeks. The bright side is that he’s currently on a hot streak, hitting for a .357 average and an .844 OPS in his last six games.
Meadows has the defense to stick in center field, although his defensive skills fall behind Starling Marte. Long-term, he profiles as the starting left fielder in Pittsburgh, and as the top backup in center. He should get all of his time in center field with Marte out.
Meadows has a lot of range and takes good routes to the ball. His arm isn’t the strongest, but also isn’t weak. It’s stronger than guys like Andrew McCutchen or Adam Frazier, but definitely not on par with someone like Marte.
The defense should provide positive value for Meadows, helping him to be at least an average starter, even if the power doesn’t develop.
What is His Upside?
Meadows has impact potential, although that largely depends on him figuring out how to hit for power in the upper levels. He’s got a quick swing and makes solid contact, with a lot of raw power. The question is whether he can translate that over to the game, and how often he can make it happen.
At the least, he’s got the defense, contact skills, ability to get on base, and enough speed to be an average starter in the future. He might be closer to that upside right now, with the hope for more in the future.
This is a callup based on need with Starling Marte injured. Meadows hasn’t had the best results in Triple-A, although he has been hitting well in the last week, which could be a positive sign. I wouldn’t say he has figured it all out yet.
He should be closer to an average upside at this point, possibly falling below that, depending on how he adjusts. He could get hot early on and perform well until the league adjusts to him. As we’ve seen in Triple-A, the league will adjust, and he hasn’t fully adjusted back yet. If he manages to do that in the majors, it would be a pleasantly surprising result. It’s unlikely that he would be up long enough for a large enough sample size to allow for teams to make an adjustment and for Meadows to make a counter adjustment.