Playing Time is Key for Austin Meadows

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Austin Meadows
BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Austin Meadows /

Prior to Tuesday night’s game between the Indianapolis Indians and Syracuse Chiefs, I was able to catch up with the Pirates’ top hitting prospect – outfielder Austin Meadows

Syracuse, N.Y. – The Pittsburgh Pirates organization has a good problem on its hands when it comes to outfield depth. With Starling Marte locked in with club options through 2021 and Gregory Polanco locked in with club options through 2023, the Pirates have two mainstay stars for years to come. A third star could come into the fold as soon as this season with some good fortune on his side.

Pirates outfield prospect Austin Meadows had an injury-shortened 2017 season that slightly hindered his progress and somewhat fast-track to the Major Leagues. Meadows missed half of 2017 due to strains to his right hamstrings and to his oblique.

“The offseason was really solid,” Meadows commented about his rehab before Tuesday’s Indianapolis Indians game in Syracuse. “I learned a lot last year, but the offseason was really solid. Got a lot of time off to recuperate and get my body back to where it needs to be.”

Meadows has had an injury-hampered career throughout the Minor Leagues. He spent time on the disabled list in three of his five professional seasons. In 2014, he was hit in the face by a pitch, in 2016 and 2017, he spent time on the DL with hamstring issues. His last season with full health was 2015 when he spent time with Advanced-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. He played 127 games that season and hit for a .310/.360/.420 slash line with seven home runs, 55 RBI and a .781 OPS.

So far in 2018, the 22-year old Meadows has had good fortunes when it comes to health.

“No issues in Spring Training,” Meadows said. “Everything felt really good. The body felt good. That was the number one priority.”

Meadows is the No. 2 prospect in the Pirates organization, according to MLB Pipeline. He draws rave reviews from scouts on his approach to the plate and his ability to run very well, making him a solid center field prospect until his power develops. He’s not a huge power threat quite yet, having hit about one every 12 games played throughout his career. He is a career .292 hitter entering Tuesday’s games in Syracuse. When Meadows is on the field, he is as effective as it gets defensively. He’s committed just 12 errors in 685 chances (.982 fielding percentage) and has played 61 career games outside of center field.

“For me, I know that when I’m healthy, I’m better off getting into a good groove at the plate or in the field,” Meadows said. “That’s hard when that’s hindered and you don’t get to play every day. It’s hard to find that groove. Being healthy is the number one goal, and that’s what’s going to produce results.”

The results certainly have shown once he is healthy and is out on the field. During the Spring, Meadows took kindly to one Pirates veteran.

“I was locker buddies with Corey Dickerson,” Meadows explained. “it was cool to get to know him and pick his brain. It was fun. He’s a left fielder, so he plays where I play, and I was able to watch him and how he goes about his business.”

That business has been good business for the Pirates thus far. The Pirates acquired Dickerson in a trade with the Rays – and a .351/.377/.561 line with 12 RBI in 14 games sounds like a steal in exchange for reliever Daniel Hudson.

“He’s a hard worker,” Meadows said regarding Dickerson. “He’s a great hitter, he’s amazing on defense. Every aspect of his game, he’s always able to help the team win, whether it’s at the plate or in the field or on the bases. He can do anything out there, so it’s fun to watch.”

So far in 2018, Meadows is slashing .286/.333/.393 with four RBI and three doubles in seven games for Indianapolis. He’s played in all but two games for the Triple-A Indians, and pending good health and consistent play, he could see action in the Majors as soon as this season.

“The health of (top prospect) Austin Meadows, the athlete that showed up and the baseball player that showed up again,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington told the Bradenton Herald in March. “That was fun to see. The belief in this camp is fun to hear. Our guys, their belief in each other, their belief that we can do some special things this year.”

Next: Pirate Mailbag: April 17, 2018

At worst, a healthy Austin Meadows provides depth in the Pirates outfield in the future, and potentially as soon as the 2018 season. A number of factors can contribute to the timing of his potential call-up, including whether the Pirates (11-6, 1st in NL Central) can sustain contention throughout the season. Meadows is still on a quick track for someone his age, and the injuries he has sustained have not affected his performance on the field. The evidence to back that up is all there

It’s only a matter of health before Austin Meadows earns his chance to shine in Pittsburgh.

Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rum Bunter on the FanSided family of networks. Follow him on twitter @cdcrisan.