Q&A with Rays No. 2 prospect Curtis Mead

July 28th, 2022

DURHAM -- Curtis Mead is on his way to becoming a local, national and international sensation if he continues on his current trajectory.

The 21-year-old infielder has built upon his 2021 breakout season in the Rays system to become Tampa Bay’s top hitting prospect and No. 59 prospect overall in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. Starting from a simple upright stance in the box, the right-handed slugger has shown continued consistency with a .293/.387/.534 line and 13 homers in 72 games between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, putting him right on the doorstep of Tropicana Field before he turns 22 in October.

Before the July MLB Pipeline Game of the Month last Saturday, Mead discussed the key to his offensive growth, his proximity to St. Petersburg and the confirmation that he will be representing Australia at next spring’s World Baseball Classic.

(Note: this Q&A was first held on Instagram Live and has been edited for clarity and length. It was also recorded before Mead suffered right forearm tightness in Saturday’s game. A resulting MRI was negative, and he is expected to return to Durham in a few weeks.)

Dykstra: You’ve largely been one of the most consistent performers in the Minors over the last year. What do you think has improved the most for you in that time?

Mead: I think just getting those at-bats consistently and also my defensive versatility. I think I've been able to make strides defensively at three different spots. That's been huge.

Dykstra: Speaking of that versatility, since you got here you’ve pretty much been playing third and second. How much are you working on second specifically?

Mead: Second’s been a big emphasis this year. I played it a lot when I was younger, but this year, that's kind of been the goal. I've been spending one or two days a week there, but definitely three or four days out in the training field at second too, so it’s been good.

Dykstra: What is your focus when you are working out there?

Mead: Just more that the double-play turns are the key. Obviously, the ground balls are similar to third, but the double plays [are different], so the feeds and the turns [are a focus.]

Dykstra: Going back to offensive consistency, you’re always a guy who’s hitting .300 with an OPS around .900 at Single-A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. What is the key to your consistency?

Mead: I'm not really sure. You know, I tried to stay consistent with my work before the game and make sure that I challenge myself at some point before the game so that I go into the game and it slows down a bit.

Dykstra: What’s been the biggest adjustment for you at Triple-A?

Mead: I think it’s the velocity. The relief pitchers have been throwing harder and they’re big league guys. So I’m getting used to facing big league guys every day.

Dykstra: One of my favorite things about you is your setup at the plate. You’ve said you’ve learned that from your dad when he told you to stand straight up in the box. Take us through that and the evolution of your batting stance since you were a kid in Australia.

Mead: Making some little tweaks here and there. I’m not the finished product just yet. But yeah, it’s kind of a narrow stance, feet shoulder width apart, step, pivot, swing. I try to keep it pretty simple with my hands nice and high.

Dykstra: Speaking of those tweaks, what is the difference between now and when you were 10 or 11?

Mead: A little bit wider now, and I got to understand how to use my body more efficiently. So getting a little bit more out of that with hopefully still staying consistent.

Dykstra: Because of that simplicity, do you get a lot of questions from teammates on how it works for you?

Mead: Definitely there are weeks that I’m hitting pretty good, and guys who are going through it a little bit ask questions here and there. But I just try to give myself the best chance to hit every single pitch, whether it’s a fastball, breaking ball or changeup. I’m trying to be on time for the fastball and then react.

Dykstra: When it comes to your power, it seems like you’re turning some of last year’s doubles into this year’s home runs. What’s been the key to that?

Mead: I think getting the ball out in front. I'm also putting a big emphasis on pitch selection, swinging at better pitches. I find when I swing at better pitches, I hit them harder and further, hopefully.

Dykstra: How do you specifically work on pitch selection?

Mead: So this year, I actually hit pretty much strictly only in the cage because I find that I have a little bit [patience] with what I swing at in the cage and I don't have people outside waiting to pick up balls on me. So I feel fine just letting them go by. Hitting in the cages this year, it's helped me a lot. My walk percentage has gone up, so it’s worked well I think.

Dykstra: Speaking of that percentage, what are stats you look at when evaluating your performance?

Mead: My K rate, my walk rate and my driven rate. Those are the three the Rays hold their guys accountable for. Driven rate is 95 [mph exit velocity] and between 10 and 40 [degrees of launch angle]. That’s pretty much how to get balls in the air.

Dykstra: To go several steps back, the Rays acquired you in what looked like a minor trade with the Phillies back in November 2019. I’m sure many Phillies fans see you as one who got away. What has changed for you from being a Phillies prospect at the complex level to where you are now with Tampa Bay?

Mead: It’s hard. The Rays coaches have been awesome, and they're really good with their development. Working closely with all of them -- whether it’s our infield coordinator on my defense or our hitting guys -- it’s all been about staying consistent and making the most out of every day.

Dykstra: Do you feel like you’re the same player you were at the time of the trade? Like the Rays just identified something in you that the Phillies were missing?

Mead: I like to think so. I obviously got bigger and stronger over that COVID year before I played for the Rays. But I don’t think a ton has changed really.

Dykstra: In that climb with the Rays, you’re now with the Durham Bulls. What is it like being part of an iconic Minor League franchise, and do they force you to watch the movie before coming here?

Mead: I’d actually already seen the movie. All of my friends and family back home, they don’t really know who the Bowling Green Hot Rods are but when you tell them you’re playing on the Bulls, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, the Durham Bulls, of course.’ It’s been pretty cool. People back home have bought some Durham Bull stuff.

Dykstra: You are a right-handed hitter. The iconic “Hit Bull, Win Steak” sign is right down the line in left. How much are you aiming for that when you’re playing here?

Mead: I try not to. I try to stay in the middle of the park. I haven’t really come close yet, and I’m not too worried about it.

Dykstra: Speaking of talking to folks back home, one of the big things coming up is the World Baseball Classic. Australia has already qualified for Pool B with Japan, China and South Korea. Have you had any discussions about joining the team next spring?

Mead: Yeah, I’m going to play for Team Australia. The squad is starting to come together, and the coaching staff is starting to communicate a little bit more. I’ll be around there, and the Rays have given me the OK.

Dykstra: What is the process like for the Australia coaches reaching out?

Mead: I’m good friends with the head coach, Dave Nilsson. So we’ve been talking about it over the last few years. I’m going to play the Under-23 World Cup in October as well. I think they would like to think, as a hitter, that I'll be around the place. Obviously with pitching restrictions and stuff, there’s a little bit of the unknown, but yeah, I think the expectation is that most of the hitters are going to be there.

Dykstra: What will it be like to represent your country, especially in a tournament where a lot of people are going to learn about Australian baseball?

Mead: It’s going to be awesome. I've really, really dreamed about that since I was kind of young, and it'll actually be my first time playing for Team Australia, the head team, so I’m looking forward to it.

Dykstra: People know pitchers out of Australia, like Liam Hendriks or Grant Balfour. They don’t really know hitters. Nilsson is probably the best to come out of the country. Do you think you could take over that mantle someday?

Mead: Yeah, that’s definitely something that’s on my mind and a goal of mine. It’s not the be-all, end-all, but it’s something I could reach, which would be pretty cool.

Dykstra: How close to the Majors do you feel here at Durham?

Mead: A lot closer than Double-A. Guys are leaving the dugout in the middle of the game and are going to the big leagues, and guys are coming back down who you saw on TV. So definitely pretty close, and it’s a pretty cool feeling.

Dykstra: Do you feel like there are any benchmarks you need to hit to prove your own Major League readiness?

Mead: I'm not really sure. Nothing personally, I’d say. I'd say just continuing to work on my defense. I think the big point would be for them to know they can put me out in the field and I'll be confident and be able to play good solid defense.

Dykstra: Is that because you are so confident in your bat that you could hit anything?

Mead: Yeah, I’d like to think so.

Dykstra: Are you someone who envisions what your first Major League at-bat will be like?

Mead: Not really, not really. Being from Australia, making the Major Leagues isn’t a goal of mine. I try and stay away from it and think about if I make it, rather than when just because I don’t want to get too caught up in all that stuff.

Dykstra: We’ll end on this one, going back to the WBC. What do you feel is the ceiling for Team Australia in such a big tournament?

Mead: I definitely would hope that we make it out of the first round. I think we’ll have a really talented group. I think anything below that will be a failure and anything above would be a success for the team. You never know. We’ll put our best foot forward and go from there.