By Jared Lankes
Austin Meadows was drafted 9th overall by the Pirates in the 2013 draft. He has quickly climbed the prospect charts and has ascended to the be one of the top prospects for the Pirates and in all of baseball. The 21-year old outfielder has quickly worked through the minors, mashing at every level. He suffered an orbital fracture that held him out for a little bit this year, but came back and was great for AA Altoona, historically so in fact as he was in the midst of the greatest hitting stretch in Altoona Curve history. This lead to him getting a promotion to AAA Indianapolis. He is an exciting player that could hit the big leagues as early as next year because of how polished he is already. But you might be thinking exactly this: But don’t the Pirates already have their three outfielders? Well, sit back because I am going to explain it all for you right now.
Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco are all signed beyond this year, and Polanco and Marte for many years to come. As for McCutchen, his contract is coming up sooner than everyone thinks. So all in all, it looks like the first guy to go will be the first guy that came, naturally. While Marte and Polanco continue to reach their peak, it looks like the Pirates superstar center fielder is nearing the end of his. It is very unfortunate because McCutchen is so good and does so much for this team on and off the field as a leader. He is the face of the franchise, but faces change with time. I hate to say it, but Meadows spells out the end of McCutchen’s time in Pittsburgh, and everyone knows it.
I am willing to bet that Meadows will get at least a year of at-bats in AAA, if not more. However, he is not a Tyler Glasnow or Josh Bell type where he needs more than that because, as I said, he is already so polished and/or he doesn’t need a position change. The only position change he will need is moving to a corner outfield spot when Marte takes over center field when McCutchen leaves. That isn’t a huge problem as it is a common thing. I project Meadows in a year or so, which means that McCutchen’s doom is sooner rather than later. Again, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is the reality of it.
Pirates would be dumb to trade McCutchen this offseason of course, and they would be dumber to trade him midseason next year unless if they are severly out of it. I am thinking they might just let him walk or pick up his affordable 2018 option and then trade him and get something back. It might look bad to trade McCutchen, but sometimes business is business. Declining his option is just as bad. However, at the same time, you can’t let Austin Meadows rot away in AAA or on the bench in the MLB. As much as McCutchen has meant to the Pirates, his play is undoubtedly declining, and the future has to come eventually. Letting him go after 2017 in some way would be the best thing for the organization going forward, or trading him midseason 2017 if they become sellers. However, some even say trading him this season would be best. If the Pirates continue this slide, it’s possible but still unlikely. Though, one could make the case that he is at peak value right now. Despite struggling right now, he’s still one of the best, he’s affordable, and isn’t a free agent until after 2017, or 2018 with his very friendly club option. I still think it’s unlikely, but not too far out there.
There is one thing could change all of this however, and that is the DH. If the DH comes to the NL, the Pirates will obviously need one. Though McCutchen’s defense isn’t bad, it is declining as well as his speed. Making him a DH when Meadows comes up could be a possibility for sure. That would be nearly the only reason he plays out his contract here in Pittsburgh. Pirates might be waiting the NL DH saga and then making decisions. The team gets run differently as a whole with a DH as opposed to not having one. Many players could fill the DH spot for the team, but none would quite be able to fill it quite like one of the best hitters in the MLB.
I really like Andrew McCutchen, but Austin Meadows is coming fast. For McCutchen, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. It is going to be a sad day when McCutchen is no longer a Pirate, but from the ashes of an end comes the sparkles of a new beginning. And the new beginning will be in the form of Austin Meadows, who will excite Pirates fans for many years.