An ocean away from home, Mead finds his footing

In retrospect, Australian is grateful parents kept distance as he adjusted to U.S.

February 27th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If one of the hardest things parents go through is watching their child leave the nest, imagine being ’s parents and having your child roost 10,000 miles away from home.

Mead was just 18 years old when he signed a contract with the Phillies, and he’d have much preferred to have his family by his side a year later as he adjusted to life in the United States. His parents -- with whom he is extremely close -- thought he’d benefit more from full baseball immersion, at least for the first year.

It was a decision Mead wasn’t wild about at the time, but man, has it paid off in spades.

“It was super tough. Year 1 was really hard. My parents made the decision [not to come], which I hated at the time but I’m thanking them now,” Mead said. “They just wanted to let me settle in, and I struggled with that a lot.

“The first two months were really tough. But then, I started to find my feet. Now, I love being over here. And I know that I need to be over here.”

When Mead made his Spring Training debut on Sunday, it represented another step in the long journey he has made in quite a short time. From Australian Baseball League standout to 18-year-old Phillies signee to Rays No. 2 prospect last season, Mead might have even cracked the big league roster in 2022 if not for a right elbow strain that eventually shut him down in the last month of the season at Triple-A Durham.

Tampa Bay is playing it safe with its top position prospect this season -- Mead was the designated hitter on Sunday; he’ll play third base on Tuesday in Orlando against the Yankees. Manager Kevin Cash said Mead is 100 percent healthy, “but we’ve got to keep him healthy,” so the early plan is to play Mead every other game, then move to two days on and one off as he ramps up for the season.

“There's a buildup, but I am excited to see him,” Cash said of MLB’s No. 33 overall prospect. “We know him, he knows us. But [then] you hear how the mind works, the type of teammate he is, the way he can process information in the game with at-bats and approach of what he wants to do with pitchers, how they're attacking him.

“It’s beyond his years.”

Not many places are farther from St. Petersburg, Fla., than Adelaide, Australia, where Mead was born, but he keeps in touch often and visits each offseason. Mead has also brought a piece of home with him, with his upright batting stance a nod to his father who suggested it and who coached Mead through his early teens.

Does dad still chip in advice from afar? Of course he does, Mead said, chuckling.

“He knows that I have a lot of other high-level coaches now, so we talk more approach and just playing the game the right way, and that sort of thing, rather than mechanical [stuff],” Mead said.

Where Mead’s season will go from here is anyone’s guess, but this spring is another step to see how well he can transfer his career Minors slash line of .306/.376/.517 to the big stage. He’ll likely start the season in Triple-A, but Cash did note that the 22-year-old will be “more heavily watched in spring than some other people.”

Mead has done a lot of growing up -- on the field and off -- in the past three-plus years, and he has learned along the way to make the most of each experience. A level-headed approach to baseball, and life, has gotten him this far, and there’s no reason to think it’s not going to continue to carry him upward.

And so, as spring wears on, Mead said he’s feeling a little less pressure and a lot more opportunity.

“Every level that I've gone to throughout the Minor Leagues, I've tried to just be like, ‘I've never been here before. So who knows if I can play here? Let's just go out and see what I can do,’” he said. “You know, there might be a little bit more pressure I put on myself throughout the first week or two, but I'm hoping once I get up [with the Rays], I can settle in and just enjoy the experience and try and help the team win."