The ninth overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft out of the prep ranks of Georgia, Austin Meadows immediately became one of the top prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. After the 2016 season that saw him break out with the power in his bat, he became almost universally a top 10 prospect in all of baseball. Injuries limited Meadows in part of that 2016 season and the 2017 season which cooled the buzz on Meadows.
On Friday night, Meadows will make his MLB debut for the Pirates with Starling Marte headed to the DL. Still the best position prospect in the Pirates system, Meadows is not hitting for as much power as he did in 2016 but the premier hit tool is showing again. In each his first three seasons in pro ball, Meadows hit over .300 but did not hit more than seven home runs in a single season, although he played only 48 games to reach seven long balls in his debut season of 2013.
Now a “seasoned” 23-year old, Meadows is often overlooked as an elite prospect despite still having elite tools. He can cover enough ground in the outfield to play a solid center and is eight of nine in stolen base attempts through 32 games at Triple-A this season. He has had recurring hamstring injuries that cast some doubt on his ability to continue stealing bases and covering the ground in the outfield he shows when healthy, but the ability is certainly still there.
The bat is his best tool, showing the approach and knack to put bat-to-ball with his smooth swing from the left side of the plate that could see him flirt with .300 in the big leagues, although a .285-.290 average is a more likely average for him.
If he has to move to left (he has a below average arm, so right is not a realistic position), he will need to tap into the power he did in the 2016 season. In reality, a move to left full time and a need to hit for more power will only be required if the hamstring injuries truly slow him down overall, which will take away significantly from his game.
If Meadows stays healthy he has the potential to become an All-Star caliber outfielder and a key piece of the Pirates for a decade. If the injury bug continues to follow him around, he will likely become a “disappointment” compared to the expectations cast upon him early in his career. In that case, he can still become a reliable every day starter, but won’t have the star potential that his legs give him.