Austin Meadows Tears Up Triple-A Since Joining Rays
DURHAM, N.C. — When a player gets demoted from the big leagues and then traded, things can go one of two ways.
They can sulk and ask, “Why?”, be frustrated and bitter about being sent to Triple-A and be overwhelmed by the logistics of relocating to a new city.
Or, they can do what Austin Meadows did: accept it, smile, and mash.
Meadows hit .344 with 10 home runs in 27 games after joining Triple-A Durham in early August. He and the Bulls open the International League playoffs Wednesday at Toledo.
“I’ve been very, very impressed, not only with the play on the field but with the person,” Durham manager Jared Sandberg said. “He was already in the big leagues making his debut and then gets sent down, but he’s fit right in here in the clubhouse and obviously put on a show with the bat. ... To get him in here, plug him into the three-hole, it’s been great for us. He’s been a huge boost for us as a ballclub.”
Meadows has a two-homer game and a three-homer game for Durham already. He’s had two four-hit games and a three-hit game. He’s had a walkoff home run and a pair of five-RBI nights, nearly as many walks (eight) as strikeouts (13) and a slew of impressive catches in the outfield. His OPS stands at a gaudy 1.167.
Really, it’s been a new level of excellence for the 23-year-old outfielder and an early source of encouragement for the Rays on the trade return for their ace.
“It was definitely surprising being traded, I wasn’t really ready for it,’ Meadows said. “But for me, it was exciting for another team to want me that bad and be able to give up a really star caliber player like they did Chris Archer for me and Tyler (Glasnow) and Shane (Baz). It was definitely exciting, and I was excited to get over here and get everything going.”
That excitement carried over, even though moving to Tampa Bay meant a trip back to the minors.
Meadows spent five years in the minor leagues before finally making his major league debut on May 18 with the Pirates. He spent most of the next two and a half months in the majors, figuring Triple-A was largely behind him.
The trade to Tampa Bay changed that. With a glut of outfielders on the Rays' roster, Meadows was immediately assigned to Triple-A.
“It can be frustrating (getting sent to Triple-A), but for me I looked at it as an opportunity to play every day,” Meadows said. “That was the main thing, being able to get the consistent at-bats and play every single day. At the time I knew I wasn’t going to do that in Tampa. They have a lot of good outfielders up there. So for me, I realized I needed to be down here and play every day.”
That positive attitude—and the consistent at-bats—translated into production. Meadows notched a hit in 21 of 27 games with Durham and was in line for a September call-up, but an unfortunate incident sidetracked those plans.
Meadows hit three home runs on Aug. 29 against Charlotte, his first three-homer game as a professional. In Meadows’ final at-bat leading off in the ninth inning, Knights reliever Caleb Frare threw a 96 mph fastball up and in. Meadows got his hands up, and the ball hit him directly on his left thumb.
The benches cleared, Frare and Charlotte manager Mark Grudzielanek were ejected, and Frare was later suspended. The X-rays on Meadows' thumb came back negative, but he hasn’t played since.
“Luckily it didn’t hit my head, that was kind of the main concern there,” Meadows said. “He got my thumb pretty good. It’s just one of those small little things, but I’ll hopefully be back soon.”
The incident remains a source of frustration within the Bulls' clubhouse, but it’s done nothing to take the shine off of Meadows’ contributions since joining the club.
That’s particularly true with what he’s shown in the batter’s box, beyond just the stats.
“The thing that really surprised me was just the calmness in the batters box,” Sandberg said. “The ability to see the baseball, look over a baseball. He takes it real quiet and then all the sudden he’s got some bat speed behind it. There’s really no panic in the batters box.”
Pirates Focus On Improving Player Development
The fact that Pirates prospects tended to improve dramatically with new organizations did not go unnoticed by ownership.
Perhaps most encouraging for the Rays is they acquired Meadows right as his power seems to be manifesting. After never hitting more than 12 home runs in a season, Meadows’ 10 homers in a month at Durham has been a pleasant development for all involved.
“You can dream about a 30 home run season probably,” Sandberg said. “It’s very easy for me to sit here and say power is the last tool to develop and everybody knows that. I think for him the power is developing here because he’s getting consistent playing time. He’s healthy, he feels really good, he had the experience of going to the big leagues and having success there and then coming down knowing that he’s just ready to dominate Triple-A.
"It didn’t matter what the pitch is. In, out, up, down, fastball, secondary pitch—he’s put a hurting on it. He’s used the whole field. There’s a lot more power in there for sure. It’s the last tool to develop.”
By all appearances, Meadows is blossoming into the player long expected since the Pirates took him ninth overall in the 2013 draft. It’s taken five years, a trade and multiple injuries—he missed large chunks of 2014, 2016 and 2017 with hamstring strains—but Meadows is finally coming into his own.
Now, thumb permitting, he’ll try and do his part to try and guide Durham to its second-straight Triple-A national championship. And then, if all goes according to plan, make his debut as a Tampa Bay Ray.
“Obviously, being in Triple-A and being able to know all the players and how the Rays work and stuff like that, I’m just getting used to the system,” Meadows said. “That was my goal coming in, everything has been good, and I’m looking forward to getting up there to Tampa soon.”