Will missing the Arizona Fall League set Austin Meadows back?

Austin Meadows – the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top position player prospect – will miss the Arizona Fall League. Will this set him back in 2017?

Austin Meadows had a fantastic stretch in the 2016 season, sandwiched by two injuries.

After ramping up later than usual due to a fluky orbital injury in spring training, Meadows put together an amazing stretch at Altoona. After a slow start, the 21-year old put together the longest hitting streak in Altoona Curve history. Combined with a .311/.365/.611 slash at Double-A, the ability to hit Eastern League-level pitching consistently earned Meadows a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Meadows struggled somewhat out of the gate but was finding his groove on June 30th. On that day, the lanky outfielder went 2-for-5 with a solo home run. He pushed his OPS up to .793, a solid uptick from the .411 he posted after his first seven games.

It was also during that game that he felt some tightness in his hamstring. A month-long shutdown and a rehab stint with the West Virginia Black Bears later, Meadows was back in an Indians uniform.

Over the resulting 25 games, Meadows struggled, ending his time in Indianapolis with a .214/.297/.460 slash.

Many may have been disappointed to see such a batting line, especially in light of all of the Andrew McCutchen trade talk going around. While Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell have enjoyed respectable-or-better MLB debuts, it is Austin Meadows’ eventual debut that many feel will determine how long this window of competitiveness can remain open.

A low batting average and on base percentage at Triple-A does not instill confidence in that light. But all was going to be ok in the end. Meadows was going to play winter ball in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time.

Not So Fast

An oblique injury on the final day of the Indian’s season put that to rest. Austin Meadows will now miss the entirety of the Arizona Fall League. This development is disappointing to many, including Pirates farm director Larry Broadway, as told to MLB.com’s excellent prospect guru Jonathan Mayo:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”Pirates Farm Directory Larry Broadway” link=”http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/205203144/pirates-instructs-features-new-pitchers/” color=”” class=”” size=””]We wanted to get him some more playing time, but it is what it is. Now we want to make sure he’s in the best condition he can be for a full season next year.[/perfectpullquote]

Will this absence from the Arizona Fall League set him back? The answer may just be an ambiguous ‘yes and no.’

When any prospect – especially one as young as Meadows – is coming up, the value of the amount of at bats against any collection of professional baseball talent cannot be discounted. Farm directors across baseball salivate on finding a large number of plate appearances for their charges, and they’ll take them wherever they can get them. Winter leagues, Instructs, extended Spring Training, these are all fair game to find a player the at-bats necessary to judge the level at which a prospect should start the year.

On the other hand, in Meadows’ case, his course has been more-or-less charted due to his promotion last year. It was a foregone conclusion that he would spend the bulk of 2017 with Indianapolis. Despite fan speculation – again revolving more around McCutchen’s status more than anything of Meadows’ own merit – there has been nothing to indicate that Meadows would receive a late 2017 call up at the earliest. The AFL news, while certainly a disappointment, will not change that timetable.

Austin Meadows will lead the next wave of Pittsburgh Pirates prospects to make their MLB debuts. Despite yet another setback piled on top of other setbacks, his timetable has not changed.

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Photo Credit – Bryan Green – Used under Flickr Creative Commons

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