At the very least, Austin Meadows has been a productive player since coming up to the big leagues. At his best, he has looked every bit the impact player that many felt he would be.
Even as Meadows was beginning to look like the player the Pittsburgh Pirates and fans thought he might be, trepidation remained in the air. Mostly due to sample size, but mainly due to the heartbreak of seeing the club’s last top prospect — Tyler Glasnow -- fans collectively held their breath, waiting for signs that this was all just a mirage.
64 plate appearances in, and it would appear that Meadows is for real. While he must still keep the “small sample size” light on, there are a few solid indicators afoot in his play to let Pirates fans exhale a bit.
Good low-ball hitter thanks to bat control
Meadows can flat out go down and get it.
What I particular like about Meadows approach is his bat control, despite a somewhat long — though not Gregory Polanco long — swing. His hands are steady and low on the bat to bring power to the end of his load.
Clearly, Meadows likes to get down. And, at least for now, pitchers are continuing to drop em low for him to feast on. Here’s a comparison of all of the pitches he has faced versus where he has collected his hits:
This data that Meadows is compiling over his first taste of major league action might just prompt the next significant counter-punch from opposing pitchers. So, shocker, Meadows will likely need to adjust again to pitchers bringing their offerings back up.
It’s not a direct 1-to-1 comparison, but if Meadows can punch right back in the same manner that he does within an at-bat, he’ll be absolutely fine.
Here, Meadows does a great job of not being taken aback by a severe change in location from pitch to pitch and is rewarded with a double over Billy Hamilton’s head. The pitcher went in on the previous pitch then tried to paint the corner with a pretty good pitch. His bat control shows up again as he is able to easily adjust.
Working the edges well
Thus far, pitchers have decided to work the edges at the waist and knee levels against Meadows, as shown in this detailed strike zone chart with raw pitch counts:
One would think that with meadows facing major league pitching for the first time, he might struggle with pitches in these locations. Yet, Meadows has shown — again, in a small sample size — to carry great pitch recognition when pitchers try to come at him a bit too fine:
That’s an awfully mature approach for a still-young 23-year old.
I talked to a pro advance scout about what he likes about Meadows’ approach on these types of pitches, and he had this to say:
“He’s just very patient and that swing is gorgeous, but the beauty about his approach on borderline pitches like this is that he is dictating the at-bat rather than the other way around. For a rookie, that’s damn impressive.”
Just classically patient
The last indicator of Meadows’ newfound solid major league “floor” is a classic one.
Meadows is averaging 3.98 pitches per plate appearance; That is a better rate than these Pittsburgh Pirates mainstays:
Josh Bell (3.92)
Starling Marte (3.87)
Jordy Mercer (3.83)
Colin Moran (3.61)
This patience feeds Meadows a steady diet of fastballs. He is currently seeing 56.5 percent fastballs — two seamers and four seamers — which is a direct result of a very low chase rate (20.8 percent as opposed to the MLB rate) coupled with decisiveness.
Meadows carries a full eight percent increase in zone swing percentage over the MLB-wide figure, with a rate of 73.6 percent as opposed to 65.6 percent.
So let’s put it all together. Great bat control. Excellent pitch recognition. Decisiveness when he sees a pitches to hit, which he sees often because he can — to this point — dictate how the at-bat will go.
I think it is safe to say that even with a (say it with me one last time; all together now) small sample size, Austin Meadows has clearly established a solid floor for himself at the major league level.
Watching him at the plate now, it becomes hard to fathom how just two months ago — one month ago, even — the jury was definitely still out in that regard.