Pirates promote Meadows from Curve

Never before have the Pirates moved an elite prospect up from the Curve to Triple-A so quickly, but then again, Austin Meadows left them with little choice.

The prized 21-year-old outfielder, who played only 51 regular-season games for Altoona over two seasons, was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday. He leaves a legacy of being one of the best players in Curve history, crushing everything in sight during his team-record 24-game hitting streak, and now he’s just one step away from the major leagues.

“I’ve loved it, loved every second of it,” Meadows said of his time in Altoona. “I’ve loved the coaching staff, loved the players and also the fan base here, as well. A lot of good fans here, a lot of good people here. It’s definitely been fun, especially when you’re winning, as well.”

The Curve are losing one elite prospect in Meadows and getting another one in shortstop Kevin Newman, who’s being promoted from high-A Bradenton. Newman was the 19th overall pick in the first round of last year’s draft.

It took the legendary Brad Eldred 60 games to get out of Altoona, and he hit 30 home runs. It took Pedro Alvarez 60 games, and he was sensational (.333, 13 homers). Andrew McCutchen needed 138 games in a Curve uniform. Starling Marte 129. Gregory Polanco 68.

To compare that with Meadows’ short time shows just much the Pirates think of the young man, who came up to Altoona for six games at the end of last season and played in just 45 this year. He only just turned 21 on May 3, so he is flying through the organization.

“Some people crawl and then walk and then run, and some people don’t need that. Some people go straight to running, and he has,” Curve manager Joey Cora said.

“It’s very rare for this organization to (promote so quickly). Usually they stay at the level most of the year. But he was the best player in the league from what I’ve seen, at least against the teams that we’ve played. He’s been the best player by far.”

Cora didn’t make the decision to promote Meadows to Indy; that’s done by Pirate executives Kyle Stark and Larry Broadway. But about a week and a half ago, Cora started planting the seed.

“I just suggest. I’ve been suggesting for the last week, week and a a half,” the manager said. “He’s doing everything that you wanted him to do in this league. He’s dominated this league for the last month.”

Indeed he has.

Meadows got off to a rough start, missing the first month because of an eye injury suffered when a ball hit him during spring training. Upon joining the Curve, the 2013 first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) hit just .148 in his first 14 games.

“I felt like I was prepared,” Meadows said of those early struggles. “It was just some time up here to get used to the pitching. I found some stuff that was going on in the box – I was kind of leaning forward and going after the pitches instead of staying back for the pitches – and that’s kind of what clicked for me this past month.”

He took off in the last month and hasn’t been stopped, setting the Curve record with a 24-game hitting streak, batting .404 with six homers, six triples and 12 doubles in those games. He raised his averaged up to .311, which ranks second in the Eastern League, and his .611 slugging percentage leads the EL, helping boost his OPS to .976.

“I’ve seen the ball well, and in certain counts I kind of know what the pitcher’s going to try to do to me,” he said. “I feel like this past month I’ve realized what pitchers like to do in certain counts. A lot of video has helped, too, and getting prepared in the cages for the game with (hitting coach Kevin Riggs).”

It was Riggs, along with Cora, who broke the news Friday to Meadows that he was heading up to Triple-A.

“I was in the office with Joey and Riggsy, and they broke it to me in a funny way,” Meadows said. “They (asked) me why I tried to bunt (Thursday) night with the third baseman back after I hit a home run, and he said, ‘That’s not going to fly in Indy because that’s where you’re going.'”

Meadows found out the news Friday afternoon and was not in the Curve’s lineup for their game against Hartford. He leaves, therefore, with his franchise-record 24-game hitting streak still intact.

“He did everything he needed to do in this league, and it’s now time to go up and face some different situations against probably better pitching and obviously better players and see where he’s at,” Cora said.

Meadows said his favorite player growing up was former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, adding, “Loved his swing, loved watching the guy play. The smoothest swing I’ve ever seen.”

Meadows also has a smooth, seemingly effortless left-handed swing that delivers a lot of force to the baseball. He showed during his hitting streak not just an ability to get base hits, but to drive the ball to all fields, hence the 24 extra-base hits during the run.

Ranked the No. 22 prospect in the minor leagues entering the season by Baseball America, Meadows probably would be much higher on that list if the magazine re-did its rankings now. Going up to Triple-A so quickly, he was asked what it will take for him to keep improving so that he can take the next step in his development.

“For me, the No. 1 thing is staying healthy and knowing my body,” Meadows said. “Coming out of high school, you’re not really accustomed to certain things, you don’t play as many games.

“But now, you’ve really got to take care of yourself, you’ve really got to know yourself, know what limits you have. Especially a long season, whether it’s eating right or taking care of yourself stretching and everything like that. That’s been a huge thing for me.”

The player the Curve are getting to take Meadows’ roster spot, Newman, is an elite prospect himself. He was hitting .366 with three homers, 24 RBIs and a .922 OPS at high-A Bradenton.

The 22-year-old will take over as the Curve’s everyday shortstop and will be counted on to be a big contributor on offense. Check Sunday’s Mirror for a closer look at Newman’s career and what he brings to the table.