It seems as if the Andrew McCutchen “will he, won’t he be traded,” saga has been going on for a few weeks now. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has said that his team has no intentions of trading away the face of their franchise despite the team’s recent struggles and the superstar’s season-long uncharacteristic play. There is no denying, however, that a contingent of Pirates’ writers seem to feel that the time is right to move on from the McCutchen Era.
The Pirates currently have one of the more exciting young outfields in Major League Baseball, with the one-time MVP McCutchen sandwiched between Gregory Polanco in right field and Starling Marte in left. They also have one of the premier outfield prospects in the game now in Triple-A. And that prospect just so happens to play centerfield.
Austin Meadows was selected ninth overall in the first round of the MLB Draft in 2013 out of Grayson High School in Georgia, where he played against fellow first-rounder Clint Frazier. Heading into last season, he had yet to have played a full year in either of his first two goes as a professional. That all changed with a full-season in 2015; Meadows was everything advertised.
Meadows had an exciting half-season debut after being drafted in 2013. After a successful run through the Gulf Coast League, he jumped up to the New York-Penn League, where he made baseball look easy. Although it was just five games, the then-18 year old thrashed NYPL pitching, collecting nine hits in 17 at bats, including two home runs, while drawing five walks and striking out four times.
While the Pirates were excited to see Meadows progress in 2014, he actually wound up playing fewer games than he did in 2013. His first taste of full-season ball, playing for the West Virginia Power in the South Atlantic League, was a success, albeit a limited one. He slashed .322/.388/.486 and 17 of his 47 hits went for extra bases, as Meadows collected 13 doubles, one triple, and three home runs.
Finally healthy and ready for a full season, Meadows dominated the Florida State League before a late-season one week promotion to Double-A. Only 20 years old playing in a league where most were at least one or two years older than him, Meadows slashed .307/.357/.407, posting a career-high mark of 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts. It cumulated in a week spent in Altoona, where he posted three multi-hit games in his six starts.
The only question surrounding Meadows heading into 2016 was whether the power would ever develop. The now-21-year-old has yet to record double-digit home runs in any of his three seasons, abbreviated or not, but he has the frame — standing at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds — that could still see more pop. While he may not be more than a 20 home run hitter at best, behind his plus-speed and advanced plate discipline, Meadows is sure to be a solid extra-base machine, legging out doubles and triples he sends into the gap.
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Austin Meadows looking more like Andrew McCutchen’s heir apparent