Pirates prospects Meadows, McGuire help bolster top-rated farm system

Travis Sawchik
| Friday, March 14, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — A baseball maxim suggests high school players have more professional potential than their college counterparts.

But there's a catch. They also require more patience. And patience is a rare commodity in baseball.

Until last June, the Pirates had not selected a prep position player in the first round of the draft since taking Andrew McCutchen in 2005.

Eight years later, the Pirates called the names of two high school players in the first round. Austin Meadows was taken ninth overall last June, a compensation pick for failing to sign Mark Appel a year earlier, and catcher Reese McGuire went 14th overall.

While prep players have longer paths to the major leagues, the Pirates did not have to wait long to see results with Meadows and McGuire.

Meadows dominated Gulf Coast League pitching in his debut last summer. He ranked as the No. 1 GCL prospect by Baseball America. McGuire hit better than expected and was ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the GCL.

This spring, both are regarded as consensus top 10 prospects in a farm system that is rated as the best in the game by Baseball America.

MLB Network analyst John Hart said small-market clubs should focus on upside with early-round picks.

“I think Meadows might be the steal of the draft where they got him,” said Hart, a former general manager of the Rangers and Indians. “He has the ability to be a front-line, impact, both-sides-of-the-ball guy. McGuire has a chance to be an All-Star catcher.”

Meadows and McGuire are hundreds of innings and plate appearances away from Pittsburgh, but their promising debuts might have accelerated the timetable. Both players were promoted to short-season Jamestown, N.Y., last summer, and they will open 2014 with Low-A West Virginia.

Meadows entered last spring regarded as the top high school player available but slid because of an uneven spring performance. Meadows acknowledges he felt pressure during his senior season at Grayson (Ga.) High School.

“Of course everybody is going to have a little pressure,” Meadows said, “but during the season, I was able to get used to it.”

Meadows, who will remain in center field for now, appeared to be free from any pressure in his pro debut. He slugged .517 and reached base at a .399 clip in the GCL. He belted five home runs, silencing questions about his power potential.

“My swing was the same. The approach was a little different,” said Meadows, who is sidelined with a mild hamstring pull in minor league camp. “I knew they were going to come after me.

“The GCL is a pitcher-friendly league. They are trying to come at you with a lot of fastballs. I was trying to get ahead of the count and put a good swing on it.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said: “We love how he impacts the baseball. The ball jumped off his bat as an amateur. … You hope guys get off to a good start because it breeds confidence.”

The Pirates liked McGuire so much they might have selected him at No. 9 had Meadows not dropped. McGuire is regarded as one of the best defensive prep catchers to come along in years. His catch-and-throw times to second base already are major-league caliber, and he has been calling his own game since he was 10 years old. McGuire's bat also has exceeded expectations.

“We've always loved the defense,” Huntington said. “(Our scouts) felt the attributes were there to hit.”

High school catchers are a risky commodity because it is the game's most demanding position. But some of the game's best catchers have come from the prep ranks, like the Yankees' Brian McCann.

“We certainly believe we can impact an 18-year-old as much as any college program, if not more, because (baseball) becomes their sole focus,” Huntington said. “It's easy to dream on an 18-year-old.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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