Pittsburgh Pirates: Relax on the Austin Meadows Show

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates called up their top offensive prospect to début on Friday night.  Since then he has become a hot topic of conversation.

The Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Austin Meadows has been primed as one of the top outfield prospects for a few years.  As recently has 2017 he was ranked as a top 15 prospect in baseball. However, last year Meadows chance at making the big leagues was bogged down by multiple nagging injuries.  First was a pulled hamstring that caused him to miss a good chunk of the season.  Even when he came back, Meadows was not putting up the numbers expected, so many questioned if he was trying to play through a still injured hamstring.  This could be likely, as he knew that he was one phone call away from making the big leagues.  Meanwhile, by August he found himself heading back to the Disabled List with a strained oblique, promptly ending his 2017 season.

All in all, Meadows hit .250/.311/.359 in his 72 games at the Triple-A level.  This was very underwhelming for a top 15 prospect and it was reflected in this year’s rankings.  Meadows fell down on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list to number 42.  However, this year Meadows has rebounded well.  He put on a strong showing in Spring Training and carried it over to his Triple-A season. Before his promotion, Meadows was batting .294/.336/.397 at Indianapolis.  Meadows was playing healthy and was starting to look like his former self.

Big League Debut

So far the former ninth overall pick is 5-11, which is good enough for a .445 batting average.  He also hit his first career home run yesterday, belting a two run shot to right center field.  Furthermore, he stole his first career base after picking up his first hit on Friday night.  He has looked every part of what the expectation was for him ever since he started climbing the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league ladder. He is adding a big time buzz to the team, despite them dropping their last three games.  It is shades of Andrew McCutchen‘s debut,  coming up having immediate success and looking like he is big league ready.

Now the question that many fans are posing is how to keep Meadows up when Marte returns from the disabled list.  With an outfield made up of Marte, Polanco, and Dickerson there is no obvious or easy choice for replacing.  The original idea was for Meadows to replace McCutchen, but Dickerson has emerged as one of the team’s best hitter.  Meanwhile, Marte is the team’s best all around player.  Then, of course, that leaves Polanco, who has all the tools in the world and might have the best raw power on the team.  The big right fielder of course is somewhat struggling this season, but has shown flashes.  Furthermore, he is locked up through at least the 2021 season with options for the two season after that.

Remember Polanco?

While Polanco may seem like the obvious candidate to replace based on consistent performance, he also represents a lesson.  Like Meadows, Polanco was rated as one of the games best prospects.  He came up and quickly showed why having a 13 game hit streak to start off his career.  Then he capped it off when he hit his first career home run, which was a go ahead shot against the Marlins in 2014.  He ended his first season batting .235.  That is where the lesson comes in.  Meadows has had 11 at-bats thus far. Also, he is only 23 years of age.  Chances are he will regress once the league adjusts to him.  While, he could adjust quickly, history tells us that chances are that a young player will not adjust as quickly.

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While Austin Meadows should be expected to be a future all-star, he is still very young and has a very small sample size of just three games.  He may represent a better option than Polanco today, but he likely will go through a rookie slump like most young players do.  Meanwhile, the team may not be able to afford putting an experienced player like Polanco on the bench.  Also, it does not make sense to have Meadows playing off the bench and not getting regular at-bats.  So while Meadows is up, enjoy it, but do not expect him to stay up once Marte returns. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in second place, and while they need to have the best 25 guys on the roster, they also have to make sure Meadows continue to develop correctly.