Since his professional career began, Austin Meadows’ abilities have seldom been doubted. The former first-round pick has been consistently named one of the top prospects in all of baseball. And yet, it’s only now, six years after he was drafted and a few weeks shy of his 24th birthday, that he has taken hold in Major League Baseball.
Persistent injuries in 2016 and 2017 stalled Meadows’ development, but he managed to break in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018 before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the Chris Archer deal.
With an open spot in the Rays’ outfield in 2019, Meadows has gotten an opportunity and made the most of it, to sell him very short.
Meadows has been one of the very best players in Major League Baseball so far in this young season, posting an absurd .357/.438/.732 triple-slash and a laughable 232 wRC+ entering Monday’s games. ESPN’s Fantasy Baseball Player Rater has him as the sixth-best player in baseball so far this season.
This is not an “Is It Legit” piece for good reason: no one doing what Meadows is doing right now is legit. He’s obviously going to come back down from the other side of the moon at some point, but there is enough different about him and his approach this year to think he could be working toward achieving his vast potential. So rather than ask if he’s going to continue with a 1.170 OPS, let’s look closer at what he’s doing in 2019.
Throughout his minor league career, Meadows managed to take his share of walks and limited strikeouts to a manageable level. But when he came up to the majors in May of 2018 and received semi-regular playing time in 59 games, he stopped taking free passes and his strikeout rate went from the low teens to more than 20%.
That’s obviously to be expected when a player sees major league pitching for the first time, but the more significant development is how quickly (obligatory small sample size warning) he has been able to get his more patient approach back.
So far this season, Meadows’ K% is actually slightly up from 2018, but his walk rate has also more than doubled, jumping to 12.5% from 5.2% in his first big-league season.
He is making less contact than he did last season, but it’s not that simple. The contact he is making this season is much higher quality contact and is being made with fewer swings. In addition to dropping his overall swing rate from 44.8% to 37.4%, he has cut nearly a full 3% off of his chase rate from 2018 so far this year, potentially leading to his precipitous drop in soft contact to 9.5% this season, down from 20% in 2018.
The quality of Meadows’ contact is further reflected in his .419 expected weighted on-base average, per Baseball Savant’s Statcast data.
Injuries are an understandable concern with Meadows, but as long as he stays healthy, he is well worth adding to not only take advantage of the hot streak, but also on the appearance that he is beginning to be what we all expected nearly six years ago.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter). Stats as of 4-14-19.
I just sold my share and I was desperate to do so. There is a very high chance that this is his peak value. To me, that is the most interesting aspect of prospects and fantasy baseball. The moment where everyone is on board is the best time to sell. There are not many cases where you even have a chance at getting burned when a young player is this hot. IMO the advanced metrics don’t provide any insight at this point – a hot streak is a hot streak is a hot streak. When your OPS is over 1.000, that means that the contact is quality and the pitch identification has been good. I can’t understand how xVerification really means anything in this context – it doesn’t sort out hot streaks, but I do understand that people like it. It will be interesting to see where he ends up this year.
I definitely wouldn’t criticize you for cashing in while the value is high. I think there’s reason to believe he’s going to continue to be a productive player, but if you can pass on the obvious risk to someone else in exchange for enough certainty, that’s a fine move. Thanks for reading!