Pittsburgh Pirates Scouting Report on OF Austin Meadows
Throughout the offseason, it seemed the Pittsburgh Pirates were attempting to clear space for outfielder Austin Meadows. What sort of player could he be?
The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Austin Wade Meadows out of high school in Georgia with the ninth overall selection in the 2013 draft.
The 2013 draft featured an interesting competition between Meadows and fellow Georgian Clint Frazier as the best prep hitter. Frazier was selected fifth overall by the Cleveland Indians, and Meadows was the next high school hitter to be drafted after Frazier.
The Pirates assigned Meadows to their Gulf Coast League affiliate. He finished the season with one week with the Pirates’ New York-Penn affiliate in Jamestown.
Combined between the two levels, Meadows hit .316/.424/.554 with seven home runs and three stolen bases, posting a 13.74 percent walk rate and 21.8 percent strikeout rate.
With his big first year after being a top-10 draft pick, he was rated very well in top 100 prospect lists, ranking #49 with Baseball America, #45 with MLB Pipeline and #89 with Baseball Prospectus.
2014 saw Meadows begin an all-too-common pattern of injuries and issues with staying healthy. He played with the Pirates’ low-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League in West Virginia primarily, outside of rehab appearances at two other levels.
He hit .317/.394/.488 with three home runs, two stolen bases, a 10.11 percent walk rate and a 17.55 percent strikeout rate in 45 games.
His year of injuries only seemed to affect him with Baseball Prospectus, who dropped him off their top 101. Baseball America rated him #41 and MLB Pipeline had him #46.
Meadows stayed off the disabled list throughout 2015, starting his year in high-A Bradenton in the Florida State League and finishing with a week at AA Altoona before heading to the Arizona Fall League.
For 2015 combined, he hit .310/.360/.420 with seven home runs, 21 stolen bases, 7.36 percent walk rate and 14.38 percent strikeout rate. In the AFL, he hit .169/.194/.308 with a home run and three stolen bases, posting a 3 percent walk rate and 17.91 percent strikeout rate.
After showing such success at just 20, Meadows was a fixture in the top 25 of prospect lists, ranking #22 with BA, #20 by MLB Pipeline and #22 with BP.
Meadows fought off the injury bug in his hamstrings throughout the year as he worked between AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis in 2016, along with a stint in the New York-Penn League on rehab.
He hit .266/.333/.536 combined across the three levels of play in 87 games, hitting 12 home runs and stealing 17 bases. Meadows also posted 25 doubles and 11 triples along with a 9.38 percent walk rate and 19.03 percent strikeout rate.
After having success when healthy in the upper minors, Meadows was ranked #6 by BA, #9 by MLB Pipeline and #6 by BP.
I ranked Meadows #17 overall in my top 125 prospects for Call to the Pen back in January.
Meadows is listed at 6’3″ and 200 pounds. He could even be another 10-15 pounds heavier than that number, but he is built very athletically.
Contact (60) – Meadows has a very quick bat through the zone, allowing him to put the bat to the ball with ease. His injuries have left him in poor contact position at times recently in his physical frame, but he’s still shown good ability to put bat to ball.
I do think there is even more ability to put significant contact to the ball with more exit velocity as he’s displayed that at higher levels.
Power (55) – While Meadows hasn’t exhibited big home run power, he has shown impressive power in batting practice and the ability to drive the ball throughout the field in games.
Meadows is the type of guy who has impressive physical strength that could lead to Jose Bautista-esque stats if he chose to change his swing in that path, though it’d possibly sacrifice some of the natural contact he has to all fields.
Eye (55) – Meadows really has solid pitch recognition and this has allowed him to avoid the higher strikeout rates that many guys with similar profiles begin to tally.
While I’m impressed by his pitch recognition, for all of his offensive skill, he’s been known to go with a pitch outside of the zone in order to make contact with it, and I do think if he made the conscious choice to do so, he could be a guy who walked 12-15 percent of the time, but he’s not displayed the strike zone recognition skills due to his solid contact ability, so it’s hard to gauge just how skilled that recognition is.
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Speed (60) – Meadows is a great guy to examine the difference among speed, quickness and athleticism. Meadows is an absolutely premium athlete, and his easy, pure motions allow him to cover a ton of ground with what are not exactly fast feet.
Meadows does show excellent instincts in his base running, and that has allowed him to steal at a solid rate in spite of not having great first step speed out of the box or in taking off on a steal.
He does go first to third well and cover space well in the outfield, which is shown by his 20 triples (including AFL) in 2015-2016.
Defense (60) – Meadows is not a guy with incredible center field instincts, but he just absolutely glides to the ball, allowing him to work in center currently.
I was impressed in watching how well Meadows read the ball off the bat in his first real exposure to a corner this year, playing left field.
Arm (50) – While Meadows does have below average arm strength, in reviewing video from 2015 and then video on him from this season, it’s easy to notice that Meadows is working hard to maximize his arm as much as he can.
Meadows has worked well to get behind his throws in his positioning for throws. He also did well with focusing on his accuracy behind his throws to cutoff men, leading them well into a good throwing position themselves to expedite their throw to complete the play.
MLB Player Comp
You can flip their strengths in their defensive profiles, and he did get a late start to his career after a position switch in order to reach the majors, but Jayson Werth is really a prototype of what Meadows should turn into.
Werth took until he got to the Philadelphia Phillies to get his first opportunity at a starting job in 2007. At that point, he was already 28 years old.
Since he broke through with a starting role, he’s played 10 seasons, and over those 10 seasons, he’s averaged a .273/.367/.464 slash line for a 122 OPS+ with 162-game averages of 25 home runs, 14 stolen bases and 32 doubles.
That level of production seems very in line with where one could expect Meadows to end up.
I mentioned earlier that you could flip their defensive strengths. Werth was converted from catching, and he has always retained an above average arm, but his defensive instincts have always been less than elite. Meadows has very solid instincts and speed to cover ground in the outfield, but his arm is average to even a hair below-average.
With all three of their outfielders still on the roster as spring training opened, it was clear that Meadows was going to open the season in AAA this season.
However, with Andrew McCutchen now taking a corner outfield spot and moving out of center field, the writing may be on the wall for him to end up on the trade block sooner rather than later, with his contract up after 2017 with a 2018 option.
That would open up a spot for Meadows, who the Pirates have seemed hesitant to include in any trade talks this offseason as they discussed Chris Sale and Jose Quintana with the Chicago White Sox reportedly and Chris Archer with the Tampa Bay Rays, all talks ending quickly when Meadows was deemed off the table.
If the Pirates are that adamant about keeping Meadows, he’s obviously a big part of their future.