Meadows on Majors: 'I know I belong here'
Rays OF clubs first spring homer; Kiermaier dealing with heel blister
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For the first time in his professional career, Austin Meadows came into Spring Training knowing there was a lane for him to get consistent playing time at the big league level.
Injuries limited Meadows over the past couple of seasons, but the Rays made it a priority to get him over from Pittsburgh in the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal that brought Tyler Glasnow to Tampa Bay and sent Chris Archer to the Pirates.
Due to a crowded outfield, the Rays sent Meadows to Triple-A Durham in order to get the young outfielder consistent playing time. In 106 plate appearances with Durham last season, Meadows finished with a .344/.396/.771 slash line and 10 home runs.
“I was blessed to go down to Triple-A, get those at-bats, win a national championship and build a good relationship with those guys,” Meadows said. “That was a good thing for me, I think.”
Meadows said he wasn’t frustrated with the team’s decision to send him to Triple-A last season. In fact, Meadows said he benefited from the move and it helped him build confidence heading into the 2019 season.
“For me to kind of have a full season last year gave me that confidence,” Meadows said. “I think that’s what was brought out of me those last couple of months.”
The Rays expect Meadows to be their Opening Day right fielder and the hope is that he gets most of his playing time at that position. But aside from that, Tampa Bay will experiment with hitting Meadows atop the lineup. He hasn’t hit leadoff since high school, but after leading off Saturday against the Twins and then again Sunday in an 8-5 loss to the Yankees, Meadows hasn’t felt any difference being the tablesetter.
Meadows connected on his first home run of the spring Sunday, taking Trevor Stephan deep in the fifth inning. The 23-year-old is now 2-for-6 this spring with three RBIs.
“You don’t really change your mindset up there,” Meadows said. “I feel good about it. I just go out there, set the tone and be aggressive.”
Hitting atop the lineup is one of the things the Rays will experiment with during the spring. The other will be finding a way to help Meadows become a better defender.
“We know he can hit,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s been made very clear to him that he has all the factors to be a good defensive player. Now he just needs to go out there and do it.”
Speed isn’t an issue for Meadows, who has shown the ability to be an above-average baserunner throughout his career. But that speed hasn’t always translated into his defense.
“I know he’s aware of it and he’s going to work on it,” Cash said. “We’re working on his first-step breaks, running to the ball and not looking at the ball. Basically just getting a read on it.”
Meadows admits that it’s "pretty cool" to come into Spring Training knowing that he’ll likely be on the Opening Day roster, but he knows that he still needs to perform to cement himself in the big leagues. He learned a lot during the Minor Leagues as he dealt with injuries, and now he’s trying to show why the Pirates selected him in the first round of the 2013 Draft.
“It’s been a tough road to get here with all the injuries in the past,” Meadows said. “I know I belong here. Being able to play those 3-4 months in the big leagues last year kind of helped me be in this situation for this year.”
Kiermaier out of lineup
Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier was scheduled to play center field on Sunday against the Yankees but was ultimately scratched from the lineup. He said that he’s not injured, but he is dealing with a blister on the heel of his right foot, which happened due to breaking in new cleats during Friday’s game.
“He’s got a bad blister,” Cash said. “He’s going to be out a couple of days.”
Brandon Lowe will play first base and lead off for the Rays when they host the Marlins at Charlotte Sports Park Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Tommy Pham, Joey Wendle, Yandy Diaz, Joe McCarthy, Daniel Robertson, Mike Zunino, Jason Coats and Michael Perez are also expected to be in the lineup. Left-hander Colin Poche is scheduled to start for Tampa Bay.