Healthy Meadows to lead Rays trio into ASG

July 9th, 2019

CLEVELAND -- When Pittsburgh drafted with the 10th pick in the 2013 Draft, many expected the outfielder to eventually become the Pirates' next superstar. While his baseball journey has taken many twists, turns and a jump to the American League, Meadows persevered and this week is soaking up every bit of his first MLB All-Star experience.

At 18 years old, Meadows had all the tools out of Grayson High School in Georgia. He could play defense, had a strong arm, had good speed, and he could really, really hit. He had all the ingredients to be a five-tool player.

In his first full season in 2014, Meadows lived up to the expectations. He was just 19 years old, but professional baseball didn’t seem to faze him. Meadows slashed .317/.394/.488 that season, but a left hamstring issue limited him to just 45 games.

Behind a smooth, easy left-handed swing, Meadows continued to impress and ascend through the Pirates’ organization. In 2017, at just 21 years old, Meadows made his Triple-A debut. But even with his impressive performance, Meadows had one knock to him: injuries.

During his time in the Minor Leagues, Meadows suffered multiple hamstring injuries, an orbital fracture in his right eye and an oblique injury that ultimately ended his 2017 campaign. Going through all the injuries really began to wear on Meadows.

“It was hard,” Meadows said. “There are definitely doubts that come to your mind. Am I ever going to get healthy again? Just all those things.”

When you pair the constant disappointment of getting injured with the fact that Meadows was always one of the top prospects in the organization, the young outfielder struggled in 2017 at Triple-A, finishing the season with a .250 batting average.

“For me, the health thing was a challenge,” Meadows said. “But for me, always being a top prospect, I think the hardest thing was not paying attention to social media and fans and all these things. When you’re at the top and you’re a top prospect at the time, you’re going to get talked about all the time, and for me, it was tough to not pay attention to people talking and saying I wasn’t performing at a certain level.”

Meadows credits the support of his family and his now-wife, Alexis, for keeping him motivated to continue his journey. He also employed a new trainer in hopes to change his regimen in order to stay on the field. In 2018, Meadows made his Major League debut with the Pirates and proceeded to hit. 403 with four home runs, en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Month Award in May.

But even with the early success at the plate, Meadows was phased out by a crowded Pirates outfield. Just two months later, Meadows was traded to the Rays along with Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz for Chris Archer.

“I was shocked,” Meadows said, when finding out he had been traded. “I had no idea what was happening beforehand, and I wasn’t told anything about being traded. There were some rumors, but there weren’t any certain facts of what was going to happen.”

After the initial shock, however, Meadows realized that this could be the fresh start that he needed. He was still going to be considered a good, young player, but he didn’t have to carry the burden of the high expectations that he had in Pittsburgh. He could just go out and play.

Meadows didn’t waste much time making a good impression in the Tampa Bay organization, hitting 10 home runs in just 27 games with Triple-A Durham. But the sigh of relief came when Rays manager Kevin Cash called Meadows early in the offseason and told him that he would enter Spring Training with the upper hand of being the everyday right fielder.

“The work that he put in Spring Training, [hitting coach Chad Mottola] recognized it and said that this guy has a chance to be really good,” Cash said. “You watch the plate discipline and when he got a pitch to handle, he handled it.”

Now with a secured spot on the Major League roster, Meadows was determined to show his new teammates and organization that his injuries were in the past and he was ready to become the player that he knew he could be.

“As a kid, you dream of being a big leaguer, but to be in the everyday lineup and helping your team win is what you strive for,” Meadows said. “So Cash being able to call me and tell me what was going on, it kind of helped my confidence and kind of helped me realize that I was going to be a part of this team and I will hopefully help this team win for a long time to come.”

Meadows has certainly done his fair share to help the Rays win this season. The 23-year outfielder jumped out a blazing start at the plate. At the end of June, Meadows led the American League with a .354 batting average and had tapped into his power potential, launching a career-high 12 home runs in 39 games.

Even after hitting .206 in June, Meadows had done enough to earn the respect across the league and be selected to the AL All-Star team, along with teammates and .

It was the kind of start that surprised a lot of people, but Glasnow, who has been able to watch Meadows for years, was not one of those people.

“He has a lot of natural ability, and I think he’s just obsessed,” Glasnow said. “Just really takes it seriously, and he’s obsessed with his craft, and he’ll do whatever he has to do to be good.

"He’s always been really good. At every level, he’s been good. The last couple of years I know he battled injuries and stuff, but it’s really good to see him be healthy for quite a long time, so it’s been really awesome.”

Even though he’s still just 23 years old, it’s been a long road for Meadows. But when he takes the field on Tuesday in his first All-Star game, Meadows knows that staying consistent through the ups-and-downs paid off.

“There’s been a lot that has happened,” Meadows said. “For me to be able to accomplish a feat like this, it’s pretty amazing. I never even really thought much of it. It’s been a goal, for sure. But it’s a little surreal right now.”