2016 Fantasy Baseball: Prospect Profile — Austin Meadows
The Pittsburgh Pirates talented homegrown outfield may have another potential star buried in the weeds. 20 year old Austin Meadows was the Pirates’ ninth overall pick in the 2013 MLB ametur draft out of Grayson High School, and was the second player taken in the top-10 from Loganville, Georgia. Clint Frazier was also drafted out of Loganville High School four picks ahead of Meadows in 2013, but Meadows is the one that finds himself ranked seven spots better by MLB.com and 22 spots better by Baseball America on their respective Top-100 Prospects list heading into the 2016 season.
At 6’3” and 200 lbs, Meadows features a big, strong frame that makes scouts think he’ll be able to develop some real power as he matures. He’s got a smooth lefthanded swing and and is incredibly polished at the plate for such a young player. Although he’s battled injuries throughout his minor league career, Meadow impressed in his first full season and was even invited to play in the Arizona Fall League this winter. If Meadows continues to advance his game at the rate he showed improvements this year, he could very well be knocking at the door of the big leagues in the near future.
Meadows has been a highly touted player since his days of going head-to-head with Frazier in High School. The advanced approach at the plate has always played for Meadows which gave him the reputation of being a disciplined line drive hitter, and that hit tool coupled with the other facets of his skillset has kept him ranked in the top-50 for Baseball America and MLB.com since being drafted despite being slowed by injuries. Meadows was ranked 49th and 41st by Baseball America in 2014 and 2015, and ranked 45th and 46th for MLB.com as well. After showing what he can do when not hampered by the injury bug, Meadows jumped to 22 on Baseball America’s Pre-2016 rankings, and to 20 for MLB.com.
Meadows had never exceeded 211 plate appearances in a minor league season at any level before 2015, but last year the young outfielder was finally able to string together a full season and really shone between High-A Bradenton and AA Altoona. Meadows posted a .360 OBP with 21 steals in his first full season and crushed the ball in six AA games, hitting .360 and slugging .680. Meadows has produced at a consistent level every step of the way thus far in his progression and maintains an impressive slashline of .312/.380/.460 throughout his minor league career. Though Meadows also saw improvements in his defensive work out in center field as well, he’s going to need to make some tweaks to his base stealing if that is going to continue to be an asset in his game. Though he did swipe 20 bags with the Bradenton Marauders in the Florida State League last year, he had never really ran so much in his minor league career previously, and was caught seven times giving him an unimpressive stolen base percentage of 74%.
Projection and Prediction
Meadows has one of the most advanced minor league bats consistently listed on these Prospect lists, but with the troubling injury history and the current logjam in the Pittsburgh outfield, we’re not likely to see Meadows at the big league level until 2017. The Pirates organization will take their time with Meadow’s development since 2015 was the first time he’s put together a 500+ AB season, and should wait to see what he can do for a full year between Double and Triple-A. The organization can feel very comfortable allowing the 20 year old time to hone his skills in the farm system being that their current outfield alignment features Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco; however, if Meadows keeps posting OPS marks around .800 in the minors then the Pirates are going to have some difficult decisions to make. The .420 slugging percentage Meadows showed in 2015 should improve this season with another year of experience and maturity, which should absolutely put him on the fast track to the big leagues. Meadows does not possess the strongest arm in the outfield, but is said to be a good enough defender to stay in centerfield long-term, or he could easily slide to one of the other outfield positions as centerfield will likely be McCutchen’s territory for the duration of his career there.