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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Austin Meadows, of|
|2. Mitch Keller, rhp|
|3. Tyler Glasnow, rhp|
|4. Josh Bell, 1b/of|
|5. Kevin Newman, ss|
|6. Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3b|
|7. Steven Brault, lhp|
|8. Cole Tucker, ss|
|9. Will Craig, 3b|
|10. Elias Diaz, c|
The Pirates had a turn-back-the-clock season in 2016. That didn't produce a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings in Pittsburgh.
After three consecutive postseason appearances, the Pirates finished 78-83 and in third place in the National League Central. They ended up a whopping 25 games back of the division-winning Cubs.
The year was reminiscent of many of the 20 consecutive losing seasons—the record for a major North American sports franchise—that the Pirates suffered from 1993 to 2012.
A dozen players made their major league debuts with the 2016 Pirates, including eight who were drafted and signed by the organization. Four starting pitchers who ranked among the preseason Top 30 Prospects made their big league debuts: righthanders Jameson Taillon (18 starts), Chad Kuhl (14) and Tyler Glasnow (four) and lefthander Steven Brault (seven).
Ever-optimistic manager Clint Hurdle tried to look on the bright side.
“It wasn't the way we planned it, but a lot of guys got their feet wet, and they are going to be better for it," Hurdle said. “This is going to aid in their development in the long haul."
Many of those players showed well enough that the Pirates believe they can be key contributors. In addition to the starting pitchers, first baseman Josh Bell and utilityman Adam Frazier also made impressions.
Taillon's performance was particularly encouraging. The second overall pick in the 2010 draft missed the previous two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and a sports hernia. Taillon helped offset a somewhat disappointing first taste of the major leagues by Glasnow, who was rated as the organization's No. 1 prospect heading into 2015 and 2016. He went 0-2, 4.24 in seven games.
The Pirates face a steep path to return to the contention the NL Central because of the resources available to the division-rival Cubs and Cardinals. Both teams have far more money to spend than the smaller-market Pirates, whose reality was brought home when they gave the Blue Jays two prospects to take on Francisco Liriano’s contract in a deal that brought only Drew Hutchison in return.
Critics contend the Pirates' window of contention shut in 2016, which was especially frustrating because the club won 98 games in 2015 but lost to the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game. However, the Pirates believe they have a core in place who can help them return to contention without a long rebuilding process.
Along with the promising 2016 debuts, right fielder Gregory Polanco, a five-tool talent, is under contract through 2023, and Gold Glove-winning left fielder Starling Marte is signed through 2021. Outfielder Austin Meadows, the organization's No. 1 prospect, will likely make his big league debut in 2017 and shortstop prospect Kevin Newman should be ready for Pittsburgh by 2018.
But for a fan base that last experienced a World Series championship in 1979, it appears the wait for another title is going to take at least a little while longer.
1. Austin Meadows, of |
Born: May 3, 1995. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Loganville, Ga., 2013 (1st round). Signed by: Jerry Jordan.
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: The Pirates selected Meadows with the first of two first-round picks in the 2013 draft, picking him ninth overall with the compensation pick the club received for failing to sign first-rounder Mark Appel in 2012. Meadows signed for $3,029,600 to forgo a Clemson commitment. He comes from an athletic background as the son of two Division I athletes. His father played baseball and football at Morehead State, while his mother was a softball player at Georgia Southern and Georgia State. Meadows also played football in high school as a running back, linebacker and punter. He ranked among the top prospects in Double-A Eastern and Triple-A International leagues in 2016, a season in which he batted .266/.333/.536 with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 87 games.
Scouting Report: Meadows has harnessed his athleticism to become a pure hitter with a short, smooth stroke who sprays line drives to all fields. He remains in the process of unlocking his raw power as he continues to get comfortable turning on pitches and learning when it is wise to sell out for power. Meadows also shows a good eye at the plate, rarely chasing pitches out of the strike zone, and is willing to take a walk. Defensively, he is a fluid outfielder with outstanding instincts that allow him to get good jumps in center field and run down fly balls from gap to gap. His arm is slightly above-average, which will allow him to play right field if needed—or left field at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, where the gap in left-center field stretches to 410 feet. Meadows also runs well and has the raw speed to become a top-flight baserunner, though he still needs to improve his leads and jumps on balls off the bat while running the bases. Meadows wins high marks for his makeup as a hard worker with a great attitude and leadership capabilities. One potential drawback is durability. He missed most of the 2014 season and a month in 2016 at Triple-A Indianapolis because of hamstring injuries. The 2016 injury caused him to miss the Futures Game in San Diego.
The Future: Meadows will begin 2017 back at Indianapolis, but it is not out of the question that he will make his major league debut before the all-star break. He was unable to get a full year of development in 2016 and injuries, which also included a fractured orbital bone sustained in spring training in a freak accident while playing catch, set him back slightly. Meadows projects to be a star-caliber player and probably will follow in the footsteps of such outfielders as Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, who have been developed by the Pirates over the last decade.