Solidifying the outfield defense
The Pirates recently moved Gregory Polanco back to right field, in an effort to once again solidify their outfield defense in the absence of Starling Marte. Once they return home however, it would be less than ideal to play many games with Jose Osuna roaming left field at PNC Park. In times of peril throughout recent years, the Pirate have turned to their farm system to provide an answer. This season, top outfield prospect Austin Meadows was off to a slow start in his first full season at the highest level of minor league baseball in the Pirates organization. The slow start by Meadows had him off the radar for most Pirates fans after they initially demanded for him to be called up following the suspension handed down to Marte. The adjustment at each new level of professional baseball has been slow for Meadows. The development has been thorough however, and his recent hot streak against Triple-A pitching suggests that he is approaching the point where he will be in the final stages of his minor league development. Mastery of the Double-A level shows that Meadows can hit MLB fastballs. Mastery of the Triple-A level would show that Meadows has the patience and skill to get the job done when opposing pitchers try to pitch him backwards. A further look at the skills that Meadows brings to the Pirates,will help to determine if he is in fact the missing link for the team in 2017.
Will the slow start trend continue?
Last season at Double-A, Austin Meadows was off to a slow start to his season when he batted .176 in April. The noteworthy number here was that Meadows started the season on the disabled list, and had only 17 at-bats in the month of April in 2016. He quickly rebounded to start May, and was well on his way to mastering the Double-A level just a few short months later. Triple-A baseball has been a longer adjustment period for the Pirates top outfield prospect. While his numbers have stabilized recently, seeing a high volume of off-speed pitches is not something that Meadows is mastering very quickly. When Meadows is going well, he is short and quick to the ball on a regular basis. Seeing so many off-speed pitches has resulted in a lot of off-balance swings for Meadows on the young season. With better pitch recognition, Meadows has gone on to make good contact on a regular basis lately, but will MLB pitching cause him to have a significant adjustment period early on? Based on the Pirates response to the Marte suspension this season, the most likely scenario for Meadows is that he will be called up when he is completely MLB ready. Without having so much on his mind and a check list to work on, Meadows will likely hit the ground running at the MLB level when the Pirates decide to give him his first call up.
What skills will help add wins to the Pirates?
As mentioned above, the defense and athleticism that Austin Meadows provides will help the Pirates to win more games after his promotion. That is not the only way he will contribute though, as he brings both speed and power to the team that he plays for. Meadows has stolen 49 bases in 67 attempts so far in his minor league career, and he has hit 31 home runs with 142 total extra-base hits in his minor league career. All of this accomplished in just 1,339 minor league at-bats, to give him more than one extra base hit for every ten at-bats. This puts Meadows in line to produce similar results to what both Marte and Polanco have brought to the team over the past few seasons after their promotions to the MLB level. With his throwing arm being the weakest aspect of his game, Meadows figures to be a contributor from day one with the Pirates. He will bring the stolen base back to Pittsburgh, which is an area where the team has been lacking ever since the suspension was handed down to Marte. Meadows will also bring a top of the order presence to the team, allowing Clint Hurdle to keep Josh Bell batting fourth in the starting lineup. This flexibility will give the Pirates the stability to win more games with Meadows on the team, in ways that go beyond just his individual contributions to the Pirates.
When will he get the call?
With the recent progress that Meadows has made, he is probably about a month away from earning a promotion. All of this is provided that he does not regress in an area that has a negative impact directly on the check list he is currently working on at Triple-A. Meadows has progressed nicely after the slow start, and he is doing everything the Pirates have asked him to do defensively at Triple-A. He has logged innings in all three outfield positions, and his most recent hot streak suggests that he is closing in on mastering the check list he was given at the Triple-A level. This puts Meadows in position to earn a promotion shortly before or shortly after the all star break this season. This will present the Pirates with an interesting situation, because it would put him on the team right around the same time that Starling Marte is set to return from his suspension. This will create an interesting situation in the Pirates outfield, as multiple players have been earning playing time in Marte’s absence. This gives the Pirates the luxury of making sure that Meadows is 100 percent ready for the MLB level before they decide to give him a promotion.
Is Meadows the missing link for the Pirates?
Austin Meadows is the missing link for the Pirates, even though they may have all the regular positions filled once again by the time he is in position to be promoted. With Bell and Polanco being the only two offensive players on the Pirates who bring significant left handed power to the plate, Meadows is the missing link to balance out the Pirates everyday lineup. The combination of everything that Meadows brings to the table, helps to make him the impact player that completes the Pirates lineup when they are at full strength and helps them to weather the storm when key players are absent. The Pirates are counting on Meadows developing into their version of Michael Conforto, with the athleticism to take over in center field if necessary. While the Pirates may shop one of McCutchen, Marte and Polanco once they promote Meadows, they can find a way for the four of them to coexist on the same roster for a few months. With Meadows helping to balance out the lineup, his presence on the roster would require him to get starts at least four times a week with the Pirates giving him priority over the postseason ineligible Marte.