(photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswear)
CAUTION: Meadows will likely be demoted upon Marte’s return from the DL on May 25th. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, excellent play can extend the leash.
Austin Meadows was born in 1995 but it feels like he has been around since the dawn of time.
To this point, his career has taken the following trajectory:
- Tooled Up™ prospect with tantalizing upside. Or as Keith Law once put it, “[Meadows] might have the best shot of anyone in the 2013 draft class to explode into an 8-WAR player, the way Mike Trout — another huge and athletic center fielder who proved more polished than forecasted — did after 2009.”
- A rapidly rising prospect who flashed 30-30 upside, obliterated Rookie ball and Short-A, then destroyed Double-A in 2016 to the tune of a .611 Slugging Percentage and 30 XBH in 45 games.
- Struggling, overmatched singles-hitter with considerable injury risk.
- Forgotten hyped prospect, toiling in DL-ridden obscurity.
- “Mayyyybe-on-the-mend” sneaky dynasty buy-low and serviceable redraft outfielder.
It’s safe to say that dreams of that 30-30 monster we once hoped for have turned into tempered expectations of a solid, useful big leaguer. While Meadows has the physical profile of a slugger (6’3, 210 – athletic, muscular, thick) his approach is contact-oriented. He possesses a smooth and controlled swing, and hits the ball to all fields. In a world of violent launch angles, Meadows is a throwback to another time. Still, despite his old-school (sophisticated!) approach, his raw strength should lend itself to 15+ home run power, with the potential to reach the low-to-mid twenties in outlier seasons.
While the comparisons to players of Trout’s ilk seem almost delirious in retrospect, it’s not difficult to see why Meadows drew such lofty comparisons. In the batting cage, his combination of size, athleticism, and barrelling ability are almost Goldschmidt-esque (err… pre-2018 Goldschmidt that is. Yikes.). On the basepaths, Meadows combines above-average speed with good instincts and a desire for thievery. Unlike most men his size, Meadows can run. While his peak power may be several years away, Meadows is an immediate stolen base threat. Right off the bat, I expect him to steal at a 20-steal-per-year clip. And with Marte hobbled, Polanco struggling, and the rest of the Pirates club relatively devoid of positional talent, if Meadows plays well, don’t be surprised if the Pirates continue to find a way to insert him in the lineup. Devil’s Advocate: “With Marte, Polanco, Dickerson, and no DH, where does Meadows fit in?” I hear you, Devil. Don’t ruin this for us.
Hitting and baserunning aside, Meadow’s ability to get on base – a mature, polished approach – is his best tool. While he hasn’t produced an elite OBP at every stop in the Minors, his skillset hints at a future .350+ OBP player during his prime. While there will inevitably be growing pains along the way, I am highly confident that Meadows will ultimately become – if nothing else – a strong OBP source. His athleticism, balanced swing, and discerning eye have the makings of a 2-hitter, and the dimensions of PNC provide the spaciousness for him to pepper baseballs to all fields.
Through 420 Minor League games, Meadows reached base at a .357 clip. Unfortunately, his success rate seemed to decline the further he ascended toward the pros. After reaching at a stellar .360 clip for Advanced-A and Double-A in 2015, Meadows produced a paltry .297 OBP in 2016 for Triple A Indianapolis – granted, he battled a recurring lower half injury. In 2017 he raised his OBP up to .323 (still underwhelming), but it was accompanied by a Denard Span-like .384 Slugging Percentage. In 136 plate appearances at Triple-A games this season, Meadow’s stats have been pedestrian at best: .294/.336/.397 with 1 home run and 7 walks to 21 strikeouts. Per usual, the fantasy appeal of Austin Meadows isn’t about what he has been, it’s about what he could be.
But if I were a betting man, I’d bet that Meadows will rise to the occasion. He’s been playing chess against children – experimenting, day-dreaming. But upon facing higher quality competition, I predict he will sharpen things up and tap into a new level of focus. This isn’t an unheard-of phenomenon. Sometimes, talented players get challenged at the highest level, and their truest talents come out – like a reserved, unsure aspiring Jedi who shows tremendous strength and courage when faced with an imminent threat from an evil overlord, or when dark forces conspire to threat those who are innocent.
Uhh, where were we? Despite the underwhelming Minor League stats, Meadows is going to get on base, steal bases, and score runs. Don’t expect fireworks – but I won’t be shocked if he performs like a poor man’s Adam Eaton right out of the gate. Perhaps a slower Ender Inciarte with worse hair. Maybe I’m a sucker. Maybe I’m a sucker for the gloss of his raw, undisputed talent. The numbers are the numbers are the numbers. But I predict he is going to produce and play his way into most 5-outfielder leagues.
Long term, if everything pans out, I still believe Meadows can have an excellent Major League career. Perhaps a poor man’s Bernie Williams – a great pure hitter, with pop and speed. More likely, Meadows can be Melky Cabrera with speed, a .290+ hitter with modest power. Not a fantasy star, but a strong player. A doubles machine with 20+ stolen bases and a superb OBP.
And then there is the 1 percentile scenario where it all comes together. It’s not unfathomable. The raw ingredients are still apparent. Maybe Austin decides that becoming Melky Cabrera with speed isn’t enough. One night after drinking too many O’Douls he Googles himself and stumbles upon Keith Law’s Trout comparison. He goes to bed hungry and wakes up hungrier. He religiously studies video of Ken Griffey Jr.’s uppercut. He starts eating nothing but red meat (sorry, kidneys). He channels Doc Ellis and has a revelation about launch angle (while studying the habits of the dragons flying in the distance). He cuts out his O’Douls habit. He has a vivid recurring dream about walking with Willie Stargell through golden meadows, where Willie turns to him and says “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”
He challenges Gregory Polanco to a BP home run derby and hits five balls into the river. He opts for a pull-heavy approach, except with two strikes. A group of rabid fans in the right-field bleachers creates a cheering section called “The Meadow”. His newfound hunger for greatness translates into aggressiveness on the basepaths; he becomes a destructive Tasmanian Devil, like Lebron in transition. He makes the All-Star team as Pittsburgh’s lone representative in 2019 and finishes the 2020 season as the Pirates first 20-20 player since Andrew McCutchen. In 2021, he finishes 3rd in NL MVP voting behind Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies.
In 2022, he abruptly retires to pursue a career in prospect scouting. He becomes infatuated with young Padres prospect Jaustin Zeadows, convinced that if Jaustin could somehow tap into his raw tools he could be great. But the cynics wear him down, and he grows skeptical about Jaustin’s future as a Big Leaguer. Jaustin’s injury threat always looms. He worries if Jaustin’s raw power will ever translate to game power, or if he will join the launch angle revolution. He worries that Jaustin’s home ballpark will suppress his stats. He worries that maybe, like a Hollywood set with decadent exteriors but nothing inside, Jaustin’s greatness will forever be… hypothetical. So Austin retires from scouting, signs with the expansion franchise Carolina Flight, and casually slugs and runs his way to the 2024 AL MVP award. The allure of what could be becomes what is.
The Flight draft toolsy prospect Jaustin Zeadows, and with Austin’s veteran tutelage, Jaustin becomes the cornerstone of the next generation. Meadows retires as the face of the Flight franchise, with a .300 career batting average and 800 combined home runs and stolen bases. He donates 70% of his career earnings toward Hero Rats. He becomes a father to a lovely daughter named Carolina. He opens a beloved restaurant in Charlotte called 30-30, with thirty types of burger meats and thirty types of condiments. During his Hall of Fame induction speech, he thanks his mother, his wife, and everyone who bought low on him in dynasty. He reflects fondly on the summer of 2018, when it truly all began. A tear falls from his eye as he fondly recalls walking through the meadow with Willie Stargell. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.