The Pirates signed top draftee Austin Meadows of Loganville, Georgia yesterday. The Bucs selected Meadows with the #9 pick they received as compensation after they whiffed on Stanford RHP Mark Appel and his DH Scott Boras last year. He was the first high school position player drafted #1 by the Pirates since some Florida kid named Andrew McCutchen back in 2005. That one worked out pretty well.
The 6'4"/210 lb. 18-year-old center fielder from Grayson High School was inked to a signing bonus of $3,029,600, which is exactly slot value.
He led Grayson High School to the Georgia Class 6A State semifinals as a junior, batting .390 with four home runs, 28 RBI and 19 stolen bases. As a senior, Meadows hit .535 with four home runs, 14 doubles, a triple and 28 RBI.
Meadows was named a preseason First-Team High School All American by Rawlings and Perfect Game. He hit lead-off and played center field for the 2011 gold medal U16 Team USA squad that went 7-1. The lefty hit .537 in 41 at-bats with a 1.446 OPS in eight games, set a tourney record with 28 RBI and was named the USA's co-MVP.
Meadows had committed to play college baseball at Clemson University, picking the Tigers over USC, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
He was ranked fifth among draft prospects by MLB.com and was the second-ranked high school prospect on their list. They wrote "Meadows has five-tool potential, a tremendous athlete who can do it all on the baseball field. He can run, has an outstanding arm and plenty of bat as he progresses. A left-handed hitter, Meadows has an ideal frame that should add some strength as he matures, which could lead to more
Baseball America ranked him as the sixth best prospect in the draft class, saying he has "a smooth, easy swing that he repeats and he covers the plate well ... he has the leverage to hit for corner-profile power."
In BA's Best Tools, Meadows was picked #1 as a high school athlete, #1 in strike zone judgment and #2 in pure hitting and being closest to the majors.
But on draft day, they noted that "Some scouts do question his loft power thanks to a flat bat path and a relative lack of looseness, and some others consider him a bit low-energy for their taste. Still, he combines athleticism with one of
the safest bats in the draft."
Meadows does have average to plus tools all the way around. He earns pluses for his speed, fielding ability and hitting for contact. His arm is considered average and may be a question if he gets shifted to right field, but he makes up for that with accuracy and a quick release. Some have projected him to have 30-homer power, but he hasn't shown a consistent ability to barrel up.
The Bleacher Report wrote "There’s legitimate concern that Meadows' contact-oriented swing...will prevent him tapping into his raw power, which in turn hurts his value if he’s forced to move from center field."
Ah, the swing. It's considered smooth with plenty of bat speed, and he not only knows and covers the strike zone, but uses all fields, a rarity for a prep player. But the swing itself is level; he'll have to learn to apply a little leverage to reach that long ball projection. And they noted that some scouts saw more pop-ups and weak grounders than they would expect from a kid of his talents.
But they were quick to add that "Regardless, Meadows is a first-rate athlete with the potential for at least five average tools at the next level. From a developmental standpoint, he’ll need significant time in the minors to hone his baseball skills, but the finished product could be a very special player."
They compared him to Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus, and projected him to become an above-average regular on a first-division team and occasional All-Star, estimating he'll hit the show in 2017, a pretty aggressive timeline for a high school position player who hasn't even gotten his prom pictures back yet.
Meadows was assigned to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates to begin his first steps toward PNC Park. He's polished for a prep player, but still will have lots of coaching up ahead of him, plus getting accustomed to the grind of baseball as a business. That process will determine if he's the next Cutch, Travis Snider, or something in between.
But he's already got a goal in mind.
"I want to put one in the river," Meadows said at his press conference at PNC Park. "That would be pretty neat."