Grayson grad Austin Meadows, a first-round choice in this year’s MLB Draft, is having a good debut season with the Gulf Coast League Pirates. (Special Photo: Bradenton Herald)
The rookie Gulf Coast League is not any easy place for a hitter just out of high school to break in, no matter how highly drafted he might be.
Most games are played at noon, with the Florida heat taking is toll, and the wood bats take time to get fully acclimated even if you have experience using them.
Brian McCann, for example, hit .220 after being drafted by the Braves in 2002. Other future major leaguers have struggled worse. But Austin Meadows is breaking the long-standing trend. The Grayson graduate took just a week or so to adjust after signing with Pittsburgh as the No. 9 pick in the draft.
The left-handed hitting outfielder heated up in late July, belting two homers, and started August with 15 hits in 38 at-bats. He has a .395 average for the month after going 3-for-4 with his third homer on Saturday. Meadows, who hit .535 as a senior, is already ranked as the Pirates’ No. 4 prospect by MLB.com and he is quickly living up to the billing.
The 18-year-old had 16 extra-base hits in 28 games for his Bradenton-based team and was batting .315. His slugging mark was .550 and he had an on-base percentage of .392, his OPS of .942 rankings fourth in the Gulf Coast League.
Meadows, who had a scholarship to Clemson, didn’t sign immediately after being drafted. But he eventually received the slotted bonus figure of just more than $3 million in late June and got his pro career going a week or so afterward.
Pittsburgh has gone 20 years without a winning record, but that is about to change. The Pirates lead the Central Division and are battling with the Braves for the best record in the National League. “I think we’re in a good spot as an organization,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “We’re doing well at the major league level, we’re doing well in the draft, we’re doing well in the player development.”
Meadows is a big part of the future. So is Gulf Coast League teammate Reese McGuire, a high school catcher taken with the 14th overall pick in the draft.
The timing is right to be a Pirate or a Pirates prospect. “It’s fun,” Meadows said “I’m looking forward to seeing what else there is to come. I’m going to work hard and try to get there as fast as I can.”
PNC Park in Pittsburgh offers a potential target beyond right field for left-handed hitters. Meadows is already dreaming about it.
“I want to put it in the river. That’d be pretty neat,” he said after signing.
That opportunity is still a few years away. But Meadows is already successfully getting his feet wet in professional baseball.