INDIANAPOLIS — He put on the black jersey with yellow numbers and letters, almost forgetting where he was at the moment.
Austin Meadows felt like he was in the major leagues when the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians wore specialty jerseys two weeks ago that were modeled after the design used by the Pirates.
He described wearing the jerseys as “motivation.”
“It was weird, it almost felt like the big leagues for a second with the guys wearing those jerseys — they are so similar,” Meadows said. “It’s just motivation to get up there as soon as you can, and stay up there for as long as you can.”
Meadows will soon accomplish the first part of that goal. He’s being promoted and is expected to join the Pirates today in their series against San Diego.
How long he remains in the major leagues for the foreseeable future remains unclear. Meadows won’t complain after the journey he’s been on since being promoted to the Triple-A level.
On the same night the team wore those speciality jerseys, Meadows made a nice diving catch in center field, but had a moment of concern after the play finished.
The organization’s top prospect, had a brief “oh no, not again” moment.
Indianapolis and Gwinnett were tied in the eighth inning in a game earlier this month, when Meadows dove to make the catch. But when he started to get up to throw the ball back into the infield, he immediately went down and ended up tossing it underhanded.
Meadows landed awkwardly, getting his arms twisted underneath him. He might have rolled up on his arm, elbowing himself in the rib. He remained on the ground for a few moments, essentially taking inventory of his body.
“Yeah, you always want to make sure everything is OK and get everything checked out and be on top of everything because of my past obviously,” Meadows said. “It was a scary moment, but I made the play and that’s what matters.”
That “past” has been well documented. A lot of promise has been slowed by injuries. Meadows was promoted to Indianapolis during the 2016 season barely able to legally buy a drink, just a few months past his 21st birthday.
But then the injuries began. He’s had a couple of hamstring injuries — one in each of the past two seasons. Not long after coming off the disabled list from his hamstring injury last season, he went right back on with an oblique injury.
Nobody needs to remind Meadows about his past injuries. He’s fully aware, but has fought to suppress those memories and not allow them to become concerns. Meadows is working towards becoming an assertive player that doesn’t show any hesitancy on the field.
“For me, obviously there’s a health factor in there,” Meadows said, “but for me it’s not worrying about that, not worrying about the health and not being hesitant. Just going out there and playing my game and playing at full speed.”
While he’s still only 23 years old, Meadows has matured during the past two seasons of playing Triple-A baseball. He’s used to the scrutiny and attention that come with being one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball.
That mental piece of mind has led Meadows to a solid start to the 2018 season. He has a .294 batting average and .733 OPS, with 10 doubles at the time of his promotion to Pittsburgh.
Last season he hit .195 over the first month of the season and was forced to dig himself out of a hole moving forward. So, that solid start this season as a nice change of pace.
“I think mentally it’s cleared up a lot for me,” Meadows said. “In the past with injuries, the struggles and all sorts of things that I’ve kind of let get to me in the past. I’m going out there with a clear head and playing the game and having fun. I’m not letting any small things — whether it be a bad call — I’m able to be in the moment and not getting caught up in my last at-bat, or not getting caught up in later in the game.”
Just being healthy is one of the biggest causes of Meadows’ strong start, Indianapolis hitting coach Ryan Long said. Now, the goal is for Meadows to become the best all-around player possible.
“We continue to talk to him about being a complete player — how are you developing your bunt game, how is your outfield play?” Long said. “Is it where it needs to be? Again, big picture perspective thing for these guys is not about being a great Triple-A player. Yeah, that’s great and it helps us win here. We want them to be a championship player in Pittsburgh. That’s what we continue to work toward.”
Meadows will arrive in Pittsburgh with a lot of expectations, but that’s been the case every time he’s been bumped up a level. He might only be with the Pirates for a short amount of time with Starling Marte not expected to be out long. But Meadows’ time with the Pirates will be a glimpse into the future as he’s expected to be a cornerstone piece sooner than later.