Rookie Profile: Austin Meadows
In a world where everyone is looking for the next big thing, Fantasy sports is no different. Most of us get intrigued by the new and flashy, which makes us forget about the solid, reliable options that have helped us in the past. Sometimes this works out, other times we get burned. One prospect who looks to be the real deal for years to come is Austin Meadows.
Meadows isn’t that far off from helping with the big club in Pittsburgh. His biggest obstacle is the crowded, all-star outfield trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. There were strong rumors this offseason about the Pirates trying to deal McCutchen. Now, why would a team want to trade a former MVP who is still under a VERY team friendly contract through the 2018 season? That answer is Austin Meadows.
Since being drafted in 2013, Meadows has a .300/.368/.480 batting line which makes for a career .848 minor league OPS. At first glance, that number doesn’t make your jaw drop, but when you factor in that he’s been very young at each level, it starts to look more impressive. Meadows won’t turn 22 until May. Not every prospect can come to the majors at 18 or 19 like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. His swing is very fluid and smooth from the left-side, and he has made solid contact at every level of the minors which should keep his average high and continue to keep his strikeouts low.
His game power, which has lagged behind in previous years, is starting to show up. In 308 at bats across three levels of the minors, Meadows swatted 12 homers to go along with 25 doubles and 11 triples. He had 82 total hits in 2016, so about 59% of his hits went for extra bases. To get everyone a little excited, Trout’s highest XBH % in his career was 49% in 2014. Don’t go assaulting your league mates to get Meadows solely off that little factoid, though. He won’t be Mike Trout – that’s just crazy talk. What I am saying is that his plus raw power is starting to show more as he adds more bulk to his 6’3 frame. When he is called up, 25+ home runs annually is a fair projection.
In addition to the batting average and power Meadows brings, there’s one more area that fantasy owners love to have on their team that Meadows will provide: Speed. Meadows has stolen 38 bases over the past two seasons, which again, doesn’t look like a huge total until you see that it was only done in 841 at bats since he missed time in 2016 due to various injuries. He’s not a blazer but has plus-speed and good base running instincts that should help him steal 30+ bases annually.
Let’s recap the last few paragraphs. A .300 hitter with strong potential for 25+ homers and 30+ steals a year. Think of all the fantasy championships you can win with a guy like Austin Meadows in your outfield! There is a catch, though: His injury history is a red flag to many. He has missed time is every minor league season outside of 2015 due to various ailments. A hamstring injury in 2014 delayed his season debut until the end of June, and he missed time in 2016 due to a broken orbital bone and ended his season injuring his oblique. But those injuries have seemed minor in nature, without having any long lasting effect.
Meadows was able to get an extended look in spring training games this year with Pittsburgh’s entire starting outfield playing in the World Baseball Classic — and he didn’t disappoint. In 43 at bats Meadows slashed .326/.420/.558 with two home runs and two steals. Even with his impressive performance, Pittsburgh has sent him to Triple-A Indianapolis to get more minor league seasoning to start the year. There’s simply no spot for him right now with the big club, and it makes much more sense for him to be playing every day at Triple-A than sitting on the bench in Pittsburgh.
At this point in time Meadows is much more valuable in a keeper or dynasty league than he will be in 2017 single season leagues. How much he contributes, this year will depend on the health of Pittsburgh’s current starting outfield and whether or not McCutchen gets dealt before the trade deadline. Assuming he continues to rake, he should force Pittsburgh’s hand sooner rather than later to find a spot for him. If you play in a shallower, re-draft league without many bench spots, don’t bother drafting him this year to start the season. But if you have the room on your roster or a high waiver priority, go get Meadows and don’t think twice about it. This is a guy you’re going to see in the first few rounds of fantasy drafts for a long time, starting very soon.
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