The wait is over. Austin Meadows is finally a big leaguer.
It’s been a banner year for prospects as a number of highly-touted youngsters have already made their mark in the majors including Ronald Acuna, Gleyber Torres, Walker Buehler, Mike Soroka and Jack Flaherty. The Blue Jays seem content to stash Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Double-A (where he’s hitting an absurd .410 with seven homers and 40 RBI), but even with Toronto holding Vlad Jr. hostage, the league has seen an unusual influx of young talent this year.
Some blue-chippers, especially ones coming from the college ranks, zoom through the minors, but Meadows took the slow and steady route to the show. Meadows has been on the prospect radar for quite some time. The Georgia native had a baseball scholarship lined up with Clemson but chose to forego college after being selected ninth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft. The Pirates further enticed Meadows by handing him a jaw-dropping $3.029 million signing bonus.
At that point, many assumed Meadows would be on the fast track to Pittsburgh but injuries slowed his progress. Meadows missed time with a fractured orbital bone after a spring training mishap in 2016 and struggled upon his promotion to Triple-A, finishing his first year in Indianapolis with a lousy .214 average over 126 at-bats. Even last season, Meadows did little to impress, batting just .250 over 72 games for Indianapolis.
But this year marked a turning point for Meadows. The 6’3,” 210-pound left-hander made his presence felt in big league camp this spring by hitting .368 with a homer and eight RBI over 19 Grapefruit League at-bats and kept it up in Indianapolis, jumping out to a .294 average with 15 RBI and eight steals in 32 games before Thursday’s call-up. That’s not to say his game doesn’t have holes. Meadows’ power numbers continue to underwhelm (one homer this year) and his plate discipline remains suspect (just seven walks in 131 plate appearances). But with Starling Marte nursing a strained oblique, this felt like as good a time as any for Meadows to get his feet wet in the big leagues.
Meadows endured plenty of peaks and valleys throughout his five-year stay in the minors but let’s not forget that he was 18 when the Pirates drafted him in 2013 and just turned 23 a few weeks ago. If he’s behind schedule, it’s not by much. Had Meadows been drafted by another organization, there’s a strong possibility he would have been rushed to the majors much sooner. But in Pittsburgh, that sense of urgency never existed, mostly because of the Pirates’ outstanding outfield depth. For many years, the outfield trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco was a fixture in the Steel City, guiding the Pirates to three straight playoff appearances from 2013-15 (Polanco didn’t arrive until 2014). Even if Meadows had been able to contribute earlier, his path to everyday at-bats in the big leagues was blocked by established talent at every outfield position. Of course, having Meadows in their back pocket gave the small-market Pirates the freedom to finally move on from the expensive McCutchen, who was dealt to San Francisco this past offseason.
So what does Meadows bring to the table in terms of fantasy production? As I alluded to earlier, Meadows won’t do much damage in the power department—his career-high in homers is 12 and last year he only left the yard five times in 350 plate appearances. The 23-year-old has made up for his lack of power by hitting for a high average throughout his career, batting a healthy .292 across 1,626 minor league at-bats. That will come in handy, as will his speed, which has led to 57 steals over his last four seasons. Also working in his favor is that unlike most left-handers, Meadows doesn’t have trouble against lefties. In fact, this year he’s actually hit significantly better against left-handers, batting .378 versus southpaws compared to just .247 against right-handed pitching. Go figure.
Meadows will also have the benefit of seeing regular at-bats with Marte heading to the disabled list. For a big leaguer in the early stages of his career, nothing is more important than getting reps. In that sense, Meadows finds himself in a much better place than a similar talent like David Dahl, another hotshot outfield prospect who finds himself buried behind veterans Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra in Colorado. The Rockies returned Ryan McMahon to Triple-A earlier this year when they couldn’t get him consistent at-bats in the majors and they’d be wise to do the same with Dahl.
The severity of Marte’s injury is still being determined and there’s no guarantee Meadows will be up for long. But after five years of biding his time in the minor leagues, fighting back from injuries and waiting for Pittsburgh’s outfield dominos to fall in his favor, MLB.com’s No. 42 prospect is finally here. Take a moment to look around, Austin. This is everything you’ve been working for.
AL Quick Hits: Justin Upton exited Thursday’s game after taking a pitch from Rays starter Chris Archer off his left hand. Luckily, his X-rays came back negative and the Angels are calling him day-to-day … After receiving a second opinion on his injured elbow, Angels closer Keynan Middleton has opted for Tommy John surgery, which comes with a 12-16 month recovery. Justin Anderson, Cam Bedrosian, Jim Johnson and Blake Parker are all candidates to fill in at closer … Cole Hamels was scratched from Thursday’s start against the White Sox due to neck stiffness. Doug Fister filled in admirably, firing seven shutout innings in a no-decision … Andrew Triggs left Thursday’s start against Toronto with nerve discomfort in his right forearm. The right-hander lasted just 2 1/3 innings, allowing one hit, one run and two walks over 42 pitches … Teoscar Hernandez sat out with a sore back on Thursday. Curtis Granderson filled in at right field and went 0-for-2 with three walks in the Blue Jays’ loss to Oakland … Carlos Rodon will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Low-A Kannapolis on Saturday. It will be the left-hander’s first start since undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery in September. The White Sox hope to have him back around June 1 … Nelson Cruz was absent again on Thursday, missing his second straight game with a bruised foot. Cruz did some light running before the game and hopes to be back in the lineup Friday against Detroit … Dee Gordon, who moved to center field this season after spending most of his career at second base, will return to his original position. The Mariners needed a second baseman after losing All-Star Robinson Cano to an 80-game PED suspension … Ryan Cook tossed 1 1/3 innings Thursday in his season debut against the Tigers. Cook, who was called up from Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday, hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2015 following years of injury trouble … Adeiny Hechavarria left Thursday’s game against the Angels after suffering a strained right hamstring while running to first base on a second-inning single. Hechavarria will be reevaluated on Friday and could be headed to the disabled list.
NL Quick Hits: Ryan Braun is headed to the DL with middle back tightness. The former NL MVP hasn’t been of much use to fantasy owners this year, hitting a disappointing .222 with just five homers in 126 at-bats … Zach Davies made it through Wednesday’s bullpen session without issue and will make a rehab start for Low-A Wisconsin on Saturday. Rotator cuff inflammation has kept the right-hander out since late April … Mark Melancon threw 20 pitches during Thursday’s live batting practice and is likely to begin a minor rehab assignment on Sunday. The three-time All-Star has been out all season with inflammation in his right flexor tendon … After visiting a hand specialist on Wednesday, DJ LeMahieu has been diagnosed with a slight fracture in his left wrist. He won’t require surgery and could resume swinging and playing catch in a week if his swelling goes down … Mike Soroka was scratched from Thursday’s start against the Cubs and later placed on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder. Max Fried was slated to fill in for Soroka but the game was rained out following a two-and-a-half hour rain delay. Soroka’s MRI came back negative and it’s possible he could return from the DL when first eligible on May 24 … Dansby Swanson went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles Thursday in a rehab game for Low-A Rome and could be activated for Friday night’s series opener against Miami. The former first overall pick has been sidelined the past two weeks with wrist inflammation … Matt Wieters underwent hamstring surgery on Wednesday and will be reevaluated when he returns to the Nationals’ facility in Washington. Pedro Severino will continue to fill in for Wieters behind the plate … Adam Wainwright was transferred to the 60-day DL on Thursday and will go for “additional testing” on his injured elbow on Friday. The veteran right-hander owns a 4.00 ERA over four starts this year … J.P. Crawford took batting practice on Thursday and is slated to begin a rehab assignment with High-A Clearwater this weekend. The 23-year-old has spent the last few weeks nursing a strained forearm.