Youth is no obstacle for Pirates outfielder prospect Meadows
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Austin Meadows was still a teenager last April when he played his first game with High-A Bradenton.
Meadows, an outfielder who's ranked the second-best prospect in the Pirates' system, did not turn 20 until May. That still left him 2 1⁄2 years younger than the average age in the Florida State League.
After punishing High-A pitchers for five months, Meadows was promoted in September to Double-A Altoona. There, he was nearly five years younger than most players.
Impressed by Meadows' continued success, the Pirates sent him to the Arizona Fall League — a sort of prep school for elite prospects whose career arcs usually land them in the majors. With only a handful of 20-year-olds around, Meadows is the fifth-youngest player in the league.
“It's pretty cool,” Meadows said. “I've grown up always playing up against competition, so I'm used to always being the youngest guy on the team. I enjoy it. I can learn a lot from the older guys.”
Pirates general manger Neal Huntington said it was an easy decision to send Meadows to Arizona so early in his career.
“Austin's a very advanced player,” Huntington said. “It felt like he's absolutely ready for that level.”
Playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs, Meadows went 0 for 4 in Tuesday's game against Salt River and lowered his average to .133. But the scouts perched in the box seats with their radar guns and notebooks know raw numbers sometimes don't reveal much.
“Meadows is impressive,” an American League evaluator said. “He's most likely an everyday corner outfielder (in the majors), although he did not throw well (in Arizona). He's athletic, runs well and goes about things the right way.”
A first-round pick in 2013, Meadows hit a combined .310 with a .781 OPS this year. Meadows collected seven hits over his final four games and belted a two-run homer for Altoona in the playoffs.
Meadows has a compact swing that can generate lots of power. Like many sluggers, he tends to strike out a lot. However, he focused this year on making more consistent contact and lowered his strikeout rate a few ticks to 14.2 percent with Bradenton.
“I took that upon myself, really trying to battle with two strikes,” Meadows said. “I just wanted to put the ball in play because with my speed I can beat out some balls. I learned I don't have to do too much in certain situations. It was a big adjustment for me.”
The six-week AFL season runs until mid-November. It forces players who have been at it every day since spring training camps opened in mid-February to extend their physical limits.
The extra playing time is key for Meadows, who missed half of the 2014 season due to a hamstring injury. This year, he played in 127 regular-season games.
“I think I took my biggest strides just by staying healthy,” Meadows said. “I took it really seriously last offseason, getting my body ready for the grind. Staying healthy this year was a big goal for me.”